Originally published Jan. 23, 2013.
Just qualifying for the Olympics is quite a feat, but to compete on the Jamaican National sprint team--that's an entirely different achievement.
In 1999, Sanjay Ayre was a 19-year-old sprinter living in the Bronx, NY who had just won gold in the 400-meter dash at the Pan American Junior Championships. The next year, Ayre began his college career at Auburn University where his coach encouraged him to try out for the Jamaican Olympic team.
At the time, Ayre was 20 and a Jamaican citizen.
"Track and field is by far the biggest sport in Jamaica," said Ayre, who recently opened up his own training center in Howard County and serves as the men's sprint coach for Howard Community College. "The fans are very passionate. There is no second, no third place, they want everyone to be a champion."
He clocked in fourth at the trials, narrowly missing his chance to compete in the individual event, in which only the top three are selected. But the fourth place finish gave him a place on the team as a runner in the 4x400 meter relay.
In Sydney, Jamaica finished third in the relay, earning Ayre his first Olympic medal. In 2008, the medal was upgraded to a silver after the first-place U.S. team was disqualified when one of its members admitted using performance- enhancing drugs.
Ayre and his fellow Jamaican sprinters went on to win the gold at the World Indoor Championships in 2004 in Budapest during the run-up to the Athens Olympics.
"I was in fantastic shape," said Ayre. "But I was injured after trials and couldn't compete at the Olympics."
Ayre got his last shot at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
" was special in a way," said Ayre. "Jamaica emerged as the sprint factory of the world and we really wanted to dominate as a team."
It was during the Beijing Olympics when Ayre said he became close with Jamaica's Usain Bolt, who broke onto the Olympic scene that year as "The World's Fastest Man", winning both the 100-meter and 200-meter in world record time.
But for Ayre, the '08 Olympics were disappointing. In the finals of the 4x400 relay, Ayre was the third leg and handed off the baton in third place, but the anchor leg runner slowed, and the Jamaicans finished in eighth place.
Despite the tough finish, Ayre said the '08 Olympics in Beijing, known for its amazing Opening Ceremony, was the "most special thing and event I've experienced in my life."
After the Olympics, Ayre took some time to analyze his life. At the time he was training in Waco, TX, but had a 3-year old daughter living in Columbia. He made the decision to move to Howard County, found a place in Elkridge and became a U.S. citizen.
"I wanted to be close to my daughter," said Ayre.
Despite moving to Maryland, Ayre kept training. During the buildup to the 2012 Olympics in London, Ayre was coached by Howard Community College co-head coach Errick Henlon. During the 2012 Jamaican trials, Ayre made it to the semi-finals, failing to qualify.
"I had a premonition I should retire," said Ayre about not making the team in 2012. Ayre, now 32, said he had a realization afterwards—he wanted to pursue expanding his new business MVP Fitness.
And he wanted to repay his coach who had trained him in Maryland. So, he told Coach Henlon he would help coach the sprint team at HCC.
"He's been a tremendous help," said Henlon about Ayre's involvement with the team.
As part of his new responsibilities, Ayre said he instituted an Olympic-caliber training program for the male sprinters at HCC. In May, the college will host the Division III Junior College National Championship Meet.
"[HCC] has never won a National Championship," said Ayre. "That's the plan."
The Terrapin Invitational on Jan. 19 was the first indoor meet of the season for HCC's track and field team, and two of Ayre's sprinters shined.
Facing off against Division 1 scholarship runners, HCC's Jahlil Petgrave, a freshman, took first place in the 300 meter dash, and Edgar Propst, also a freshman who only recently took up track and field, finished fifth in the 600 meter run.
Propst, whose recent accomplishments on the track has helped land him a scholarship to a Navy prep school, lauded his new coach.
"I just started running a year ago," said Propst, 19, who previously played baseball. "[Ayre] definitely pushes me. It's crazy how fast my times have been dropping."
Propst, of Crownsville, said he hopes his newfound running skills can help him get into the U.S. Naval Academy, a lifelong dream of his.
For Ayre, he hopes his skills in teaching agility, speed and strength will benefit athletes here in Howard County. He's currently working to expand his new business into training high school athletes, professional athletes and local residents who just want to get into shape.
At a rented warehouse facility in Elkridge, Ayre hosts boot camp training programs that include cross-fit physical workouts as well as nutritional seminars.
"I always say, you don't have to be an Olympian to train like one," said Ayre.