(Reuters) - An opportunity to rub shoulders with the world’s greatest sprinters at the Rio Olympics had a profound impact on collegiate star Christian Coleman.
A member of the U.S. 4x100 metres relay team, Coleman said the experience motivated him to want to run with the best.
Little did the world know how much.
The 21-year-old has become not only the fastest collegian ever at 100 metres, but the fastest in the world this year. Only eight men have better times than his 9.82 seconds.
“I think the U.S. has found its next 100 metres star,” NBC analyst Ato Boldon, a four-times Olympic medallist, said.
“The way he is running he is the closest thing the U.S. has had in a long, long time,” he told Reuters.
Coleman will have a chance to prove that this week at the U.S. nationals in Sacramento, California, where he is a solid favorite to make the American team for August’s world championships in both the 100 and 200 metres.
He not only ranks first in the world in the 100 metres this season, but second in the 200 with a time of 19.85 seconds.
“He impresses me not because of his performances but because of his level of fortitude,” Olympic silver medallist Justin Gatlin said. “He is punching on the gas and not letting up.”
Already his agents are in discussions with meet organisers for Coleman, who turned professional last week, to run in Europe after the U.S. championships.
“He is not afraid of the moment,” said Boldon.
“If I am Usain Bolt, I am very concerned about Coleman because I feel like he is not going to have the kind of reverence that a Gatlin, Tyson Gay or Mike Rodgers are going to have for Bolt because he was not around for peak Bolt.”
Yet chances are slim the two men will meet outside August’s world championships since Jamaican world record holder and Olympic champion Bolt will retire after the London event and is due to run only one race in Europe before that, in Ostrava.
Sixth in the 100 metres at last year’s U.S. Olympic trials, Coleman ran in the first round of the 4x100 relay in Rio.
Back home, he became the only man other than Gatlin to win collegiate titles at both the 60 and 200 metres indoors and 100 and 200 outdoors the same year.
“You are just seeing the result of him wanting to be the very best in the sport and deciding he is going to make the sacrifices to do that,” Tennessee sprint coach Tim Hall said.
But the biggest buzz Coleman created involved a shorter distance.
With constant talk of how quick American football players are, Tennessee officials decided to find out how quick their “fast” man was.
The video went viral after Coleman, wearing track spikes, ripped off a 40-yard time of 4.12 seconds, faster than had ever been run at the National Football League combine, where the distance is a standard measure of speed.
“Coming out of the blocks is one of my strengths so I figured I would put down a pretty fast time,” Coleman said.
It is the same quick start that helps him in track meets.
“Me being a shorter guy, I am pretty quick out of the blocks and can get up to top speed maybe a little faster than some guys,” said Coleman, who is 5 feet 9 inches (176 cm) tall.
“My weakness might be that the guys with the longer legs can hold their top speed a little bit longer and might not slow down as fast at the end of the race.”
He handles the first 60 metres of a race well, Hall said. “There is still so much room for improvement in minimising that deceleration in the last 10 metres.”
As good as Coleman is at 100 metres, he might be slightly better at 200 in the futre, Boldon said.
“My only concern for him for Sacramento is that it has been a long season for him,” he said of the grind Coleman faced indoors and out as a collegian.
But Coleman said of his chances of burnout: “That’s just nonsense to say that you get burned out.”
“I still think I have a whole lot left.”
Editing by Louise Ireland