Leap of faith has set Anton on the road to sport stardom
It was only two years ago that Anton Dixon decided to take up the long jump seriously.
However, despite his inexperience in the sport, the 27-year-old has already taken a great leap towards qualification for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia.
The 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, are the ultimate goal for the Canada-born athlete, who moved to Whitton, in Ipswich, when he was eight – his parents had grown up there. He lived in the town until moving to college in Northampton aged 16. After that he spent a year at London South Bank University, before following his dream of becoming a professional basketball career.
Dixon, who has moved up from 35th to fifth in the Canadian national long jump rankings, took up basketball when he was 15, but that dream ended in January 2014, when his relationship with his coach, during a scholarship at Thompson Rivers University in Canada, soured.
He stayed at university to finish his journalism degree, but had the courage to walk away from basketball, for the time being.
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However, sport in general was very much part of his make-up.
Dixon’s Barbados-born father, Denis, played basketball professionally, while his sister Kerry (28) is in contention for Team GB selection – herself a 400m hurdles runner – and his younger brother Ethan also plays basketball.
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The former Westbourne School pupil returned to England in 2015, after Kerry tipped off coach, two-time Olympic triple-jumper, John Herbert, about Anton’s talent.
“I had always played sport so I had always had that constant, and I found myself with a big void not knowing what to do,” he recalled.
“I would cry myself to sleep after quitting basketball as I had sacrificed a lot to get to Canada – it was not a decision taken lightly.
“I took up athletics just for fun. I could run, I could jump, so I wanted an outlet to do that still.
“I would train twice a week and I ended up winning the British Columbia Championships.
“I had a year of school left (at Thompson Rivers), so I just got on with my studies and would train here and there.”
Dixon went on to try and qualify for the Pan-Am Games, only for his career to be put on hold.
“My mother (Maria) got cancer that summer and I decided to go and be with her (in Canada) because she had to go straight to surgery,” said Dixon, whose mum has since been given the all-clear.
“At the end of school (Thompson Rivers) I came to a crossroads because my journalism was going well, but John Herbert said I’d have to come to England to reach my potential, so I had a decision to make.
“I flew back in 2015 and began training with him. When I left Canada I was maybe 35th-best in the country. After last year, I finished fifth.
“I have managed to extend my personal best by 50 centimetres as well, at the moment it is 7.43m from last year, but I have already jumped 7.70m in training.”
The qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games has yet to be announced but is likely to be between 7.85 and eight metres.
“I’m going to the Canadian Championships and that’s to qualify for the World Championships this summer,” said Dixon, who coaches basketball to school children in London.
“In October, I’ll try to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.”
Is six-foot-three tall Dixon a natural talent then?
“I guess so,” he said humbly. “I dabbled with long jump in high school but I never took it that seriously. I was always good at jumping and dunking but never got an understanding of long jump until I started with John.
“The long jump is so calculated and what you do in the air is determined by what your runway is.
“Your runway is measured down to each step, where your foot placement is, your posture, your leg carriage, so many things that can go wrong.
“The attention to detail is ridiculous and there are more bad days than good, but the good days carry you through the next set of bad days. So much is down to the mind. You understand the process but then you have to get your body to do it. I’ve had to unlearn a lot of bad habits picked up in basketball, in terms of how I jump for instance.”
So what does Dixon, who has committed to coach, Herbert, until 2020, hope to achieve?
“I have been in elite sport since I was 20, it’s not like I have come out of the wilderness at 25 and started this. I’ve built up a good base of strength and conditioning.
“Long jumpers peak in their early-thirties, so by Tokyo we should be in contention to do some damage, while the Commonwealths are very feasible right now.”