By Nick Zaccardi and Seth Rubinroit
Former Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best has been submitted and approved for Saint Lucia’s Olympic track and field team and is set to become the first person with previous NFL experience to compete in a Summer Games.
“Above all else I’m excited to get out there and make my country and family proud,” Best said in a statement to NBC Olympics.
Best, a former California high school sprinter with a Saint Lucian father who holds dual citizenship, was a 2010 first-round draft pick whose football career was cut short after two seasons due to concussions.
He has been doing sprint training at the Altis center in Arizona, home of many elite Olympic athletes, for at least one year.
Best registered on the Olympic radar on April 2, when he ran a personal-best 10.16 seconds for the 100m with nearly the maximum allowable legal tailwind (1.9 meters/second) at a small meet in California.
That met the Olympic qualifying standard of 10.16 seconds or faster (on the dot), but the IAAF must also recognize the results as official.
The small meet’s director said in May they hadn’t considered sending results to the IAAF to be recognized. In June, after the director learned Best had run an Olympic qualifying time at the meet, those results finally appeared on Best’s IAAF profile.
But Best was still an American runner up until this week, though never in international competition, which was key to him being able to represent Saint Lucia in Rio.
He did not compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials, where he would not have made the Olympic team as the U.S. has several sprinters who are faster.
But Saint Lucia does not have faster sprinters. Best’s Saint Lucia representation issues were solved, clearing the way for him to compete in Rio.
“This is a huge accomplishment for me, but at the same time this is just the beginning,” Best said. “I have only been in this sport for two years professionally, and plan on being around for a long time.”
Saint Lucia, a Caribbean island that debuted at the Olympics in 1996, has never sent more than six athletes to an Olympics and never earned a medal, according to sports-reference.com.
Best, given he hasn’t improved on that 10.16, would be fortunate to make the Olympic 100m semifinals.
About 40 NFL players have competed in the Olympics, but almost all of them have done so before playing their first regular-season game.
One athlete with prior NFL regular-season experience has competed at the Olympics, but it was at the Winter Games — 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker in bobsled at Albertville 1992.
Another NFL player could join Best in Rio. New England Patriots safety Nate Ebner is a candidate for the U.S. Olympic rugby team expected to be named any day now.
Three other athletes with NFL experience failed to make Rio Olympic teams.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin finished seventh in the long jump at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on July 3. Goodwin, who finished 10th at the London Olympics before starting his NFL career, came into the meet with the two best jumps in the world for the year but strained a hamstring in qualifying at Trials.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts return specialist Jeff Demps was eliminated in the first round of the 100m at the Olympic Track and Field Trials. Demps was a member of the U.S. 4x100m relay team at London 2012, taking a silver medal that later had to be returned due to teammate Tyson Gay‘s doping.
Former San Francisco 49ers running back Jarryd Hayne made a quixotic bid for the world’s best rugby sevens team — Fiji — but did not make the final 12-man roster.
MORE: Marquise Goodwin, Buffalo Bills WR, misses U.S. Olympic team