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IN-DEPTH: Triple-Thret Palamo's Remarkable Sporting Journey

Thretton Palamo’s remarkable CV features three sports, four clubs and three continents – but now he’s arrived in the West Country, the USA international is eager to take his chance at Bristol Rugby.

Palamo’s sporting journey began with selection for the USA U16 Junior Olympics basketball squad, before a change of scenery and style saw him represent Samoa at U19 and sevens level. From here, the centre headed back to the States, toured the sevens circuit and played at a Rugby World Cup, before heading to college to take up an American Football scholarship – are you keeping up?

Five years down the line and Palamo is settled in both rugby and Bristol and keen to kick on from a promising first season in the blue and white hoops.

“As an American, when you think of England you think London IS England,” he says. “So then when I found out Bristol was two hours away it makes you realise there is more to England than London.

“The city is awesome; I think this place is so great. There’s so much to do here and now that summer is coming, you can do a lot more. It’s such a lively city, very social; people are always out and about.”

Palamo and Luke Arscott celebrate his superb individual try against Pau at Ashton Gate (JMP UK).

There can be few players in the world with a sporting history comparable to that of Thretton Palamo, who believes the vast range of his sporting pedigree was aided by an active and varied childhood. Whatever the catalyst, the powerhouse midfielder has seen the world twice over during his jet setting sporting ventures – but it’s been by no means straightforward.

“It wasn’t so much me wanting to play different sports, it was just the way I was brought up,” he says. “The more sports you play as a kid, the more rounded you become and that is what I did.

“I was born and raised in California and then spent five years of my childhood in Samoa.

“I played basketball and made the U16 Junior Olympics; that was my first passion. Then my ankles were starting to buckle, I was struggling to keep up and players started jumping higher and dunking on me.

“I remember one guy stole the ball from us, it was a fast break and I was coming from the other side of the court. He jumped and then I jumped to try and block his dunk and he just went higher and higher and I remember thinking: ‘this is when I retire from basketball’.

“I played basketball and made the U16 Junior Olympics; that was my first passion. Then my ankles were starting to buckle, I was struggling to keep up and players started jumping higher and dunking on me."

Thretton Palamo

“It was hard for me because I loved basketball and at the time I was like any other kid, I could name all the players.

“Then I moved to Samoa, went to school there and picked up rugby. But I didn’t know too much about the game, in that I didn’t follow it.

“But from watching TV I started to learn - watching David Lemi, Brian Lima and all these players, I got into rugby. I ended up making the U19 Junior World Cup for Samoa and then went on to play sevens for them.

“I headed back to the US and made the World Cup team for the 2011 tournament in France where I became the youngest player to compete there.

“From there I landed a contract with Biarritz, but I absolutely hated it. It was my first taste of anything professional and I just wasn’t enjoying it. I was supposed to be there for three years but left after one.

“I did some USA Sevens for one or two circuits, but realised I should probably do college and get a degree behind me and that’s where I picked up American Football.

“I got a football scholarship, which was very hard to do and paid for my schooling. But it’s kind of ironic - I left Biarritz because it was too professional and then I went into something that was even more professional.

The USA international in action against Cardiff Blues at Arms Park (JMP UK).

“My days were unreal – from 5.30am wake-up, football and school in between, all the way up to 10 at night. I think looking back on it – and every coach and player says it – you relish the grind and now I appreciate it, but it was like signing up for the military.

“You’re still only 19 or 20, so all of your others friends are out partying and you’re either in school or doing football.”

Palamo has come a long way - both literally and metaphorically – and believes his understanding of the game has improved significantly during his time at Bristol. He accepts he still has some polishing to do, but the American is eager to learn and continue his development.

“I think I’ve come a long way with my rugby IQ, in terms of appreciating the game, thinking steps ahead and identifying what is happening in front of me.

“From working with different coaches I’ve picked up a lot and I’ve been lucky to have had experienced players in my position like Gav (Henson) and Tusi (Pisi). I just listen to what they have to say and take it on board. It just opens my eyes to other parts of the game.

“I think I’ve come a long way with my rugby IQ, in terms of appreciating the game, thinking steps ahead and identifying what is happening in front of me."

Thretton Palamo

“I grew up developing the skills, but in America we lack the knowledge of the game and so I think I’ve picked up quite a lot in this past season.

“I think as a competitor you’re always thinking about the things that went wrong and you’re always trying to find ways not to repeat mistakes. I feel like my attack has developed, but maybe in defence I’ve found it a bit harder to grasp for some reason.

“But it’s been fun and the boys around me have been extremely helpful.”

He’s played defensive end, line backer, running back and shooting guard – but with rugby as his sport of choice, Thretton Palamo is now focused on nailing down a spot in the Bristol Rugby midfield.

By Will Carpenter.

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