Olympic sprinter Warren Weir is ready to unleash his blistering pace in a new sport and challenge Carlin Isles as “the fastest man in rugby.”
Having turned to rugby sevens during an extended off-season, the bronze medallist at London 2012 makes his competitive debut for Jamaica in his new-found sporting passion at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia.
As Jamaica’s opening opponents on Wednesday, Guatemala have the unfortunate task of working out ways to stop someone who has clocked times of 19.79 seconds for the 200 metres and 10.02 seconds for the 100m – roughly two-tenths of a second quicker than USA speedster Isles, the top-scorer on this season’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with 49 tries.
The 28-year-old Weir is taking an uncomplicated approach into his first tournament and says he has a few tricks up his sleeve.
“The game hasn’t really been that hard for me to learn because I am a pretty fast learner. I am looking forward to trying out a few of the tricks I’ve learnt in training and from watching certain videos," he told World Rugby.
“I just want to go out there and enjoy the game and get a few tries and show the world that I can make the switch even though I am pretty small.
“I don’t think about the hits or the difference in size, speed is the only thing I think about, nothing else. Even in training when people say I need to learn how to tackle I am like, ‘Bro, I am just all about the speed.’”
On top of his 200m bronze at London 2012, Weir also won individual silvers at the 2013 World Championships and 2014 Commonwealth Games. Given his pedigree as a sprinter, Weir’s conversion to rugby sevens, albeit as a short-term venture, has caught the attention of the sporting world.
And rather than shy away from talk of taking Isles’ throne in the speed stakes, Weir is happy to embrace the challenge head-on.
“I don’t think I should be getting the title until I have actually played in a tournament. But to be the fastest rugby player gets the thumbs up from me; it is good to go into the Games with that expectation. When people expect a lot from me I tend to go out there and show my best.”
Weir joins a Jamaican squad that will be looking to build on the experience of playing in their first Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament.
The start of a movement... building this Jamaica brand has generated enough traction to have our first sub-10 second convert to 7s. Experiencing @Carlin_Isles speed first hand is a madness, let’s hope this guy can turn heads just as well #CanLightningRunOnGrass @Warren_Weir https://t.co/DKht0WnUSn— Conan Osborne (@ConanOsborne) July 10, 2018
The Crocs did not win a single game in four attempts in San Francisco and finished in 24th and last place but the exposure to top-level competition there, and at the Commonwealth Games back in April, is sure to stand them in good stead.
As well as Guatemala, Jamaica face Venezuela and 2014 bronze medallists Trinidad & Tobago in Pool B.
The opening game of the tournament sees a re-run of the 2014 final with hosts and defending champions Colombia up against silver medallists Mexico. Guyana and Costa Rica join them in Pool A.
Colombia’s own pace ace, Jhon Arley Urrutia, says his team have their sights set on back-to-back titles.
“We are looking forward to playing this tournament, one that we’ve been waiting for. We know that there will be hard teams involved but if we do the things well we should have a good tournament and we will be able to defend the gold medal won four years ago,” he said.
“Back then, Trinidad & Tobago was tough, and we had to beat Mexico in a hard final in front of their own fans. This year there are new teams such as Jamaica which we know little of. Our goal is to win the tournament.”
A six-team women’s tournament based on a round-robin format runs alongside the men’s competition and, again, Colombia are the defneding champions. Venezuela finished the 2014 edition second and Mexico were third.
All three of those teams return for this year’s event with French Guyana, Jamaica and Guatemala completing the line-up.
Venezuela coach Marisell Méndez anticipates a tough tournament. “Our two strongest opponents will probably be Mexico who have just finished playing in the Rugby World Cup Sevens and Colombia who played in the Olympic Games at Rio 2016. But you can’t underestimate Jamaica as they show enormous speed in every sport they practice, and French Guyana have that French tradition.”