LESLIE Copeland is a shining example of how hard work, commitment and good planning leads to success, said Athletics Fiji head coach and Fiji University Sports Association vice president Albert Miller.
An elated Miller said the manner in which Copeland overcame personal trials and financial obstacles and threw 80.45 metres to land a spot at the 2012 Olympic Games in London should serve as inspiration to every athlete in the country.
"To break the 80m barrier is not easy and if you look at the results at the Universiade 2011 in Shenzen, Leslie is the only thrower who got past 80m- this is something we should be proud of and he deserves recognition for being only the second athlete ever in Fiji sporting history to qualify for the Olympics on merit," the former Olympian and South Pacific Games medallist said.
The only other athlete to achieve this was Makelesi Bulikiobo, who while taking part in the World Athletics Championships in 2007, qualified to represent Fiji at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the women's 100m.
Copeland's path to the 2012 Olympics was not paved with gold. In fact, he had a hard start in life growing up in relative poverty after the loss of his father when Copeland was a mere 9 years old.
The champion javelin thrower made his way through primary and high school assisted by his dad's sister, determined to get an education.
However, along the way, he developed a fascination for the javelin, after a few furtive attempts during his early high school years, Copeland found he had a natural inclination and began to develop his throwing skills.
Miller said he recalls watching the former Marist Brothers High School student during the lead up to the school athletics zone competition and Coca Cola Games preparations.
"He was already throwing further than anyone else at the time and under the guidance of the Fiji record holder at the time, James Goulding, Leslie really began to grow and develop as an athlete," Miller said.
He added that Copeland's success also stems from the fact that he is academically 'very capable'.
"He is the epitome of what it takes to be a world-class athlete. Leslie has a managed to find the right balance between sport and study. His balance of brains and brawn has contributed to his success, this combined with dedication and commitment and the right attitude is what got him to the Olympic Games in London," Miller said.
Luck had nothing to do with Copeland's success. His journey to the mecca of athletics competitions was a combination of factors, Miller explained.
"He spent close to four weeks in Europe under the tutelage of German coach Boris Henry and prior to that he went through programs at the Oceania Athletics Association High Performance training centre at the Gold Coast in Australia," he said.
Miller believes the only way for athletes to viably compete in international meets is through consistent participation and competition in the international arena. "You have got to be in that environment and you have got to have a support system in place to get results like this. Previously, we used to send athletes on their own to international meets on their own and the results were disastrous. Leslie has proven that with good coaching, consistent international comps and with his coach, James Goulding, beside him- anything is possible," Miller said.
Leslie Copeland's 80.45m throw smashed the national record of 76.95m which he set last year in New Caledonia.
Copeland's throw qualifies him for the B standard at the Olympics. He still has an opportunity to qualify for the A standard if he can improve on his record throw by at least 5m at the Pacific Games in New Caledonia this year.
Leslie Copeland is sponsored by Red Bull. The Fiji team's participation at Univerisade 2011 was made possible with the assistance of the Chinese Government.