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VOL. 132 | NO. 125 | Friday, June 23, 2017

‘Desire to be the Best’ Prompts Coleman’s Jump to Pros

By Dave Link

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Christian Coleman finishes his collegiate career as one of the most decorated sprinters of all time. (Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com)

Three years after starting his Tennessee career, Christian Coleman has reached the pinnacle of collegiate sprinting and is ready for his next challenge.

He’s turning pro.

Coleman signed with agent Emanuel Hudson of HSInternational Sports Management in Irvine, California, UT’s sports information department has confirmed. The announcement came four days after Coleman met with media and said he was undecided about his future.

“I have some decisions to make this weekend, and we’ll go from there,” Coleman explained at the time.

Coleman finishes his collegiate career as one of the most decorated sprinters of all time, placing his name alongside former Tennessee star Justin Gatlin in the record books. The two share one of the most remarkable feats in collegiate sprinting.

In March, Coleman won NCAA titles in the 60- and 200-meter indoors, and in June clinched NCAA titles in the 100- and 200-meter outdoors.

Gatlin is the only other sprinter to complete the NCAA’s four-race, indoor-outdoor sweep. He won all four races in 2002.

As a youngster, Coleman recalls finding inspiration in Gatlin when he blazed his way to a gold medal in the 100-meter dash in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

“I think he’s influenced me since I was young,” Coleman says of Gatlin. “I remember watching him winning the Olympics when I was 8 years old. He was coming out of college, I think like two years out of college and he won the Olympics. So that was pretty inspiring to me. I was just a young guy in the sport.”

Now, Gatlin is more than a motivator for Coleman – especially as he embarks on his pro career. The two were on the U.S. Olympic team together last summer in Rio de Janeiro.

“He’s had a huge influence on me during my whole life, and even now,” Coleman adds. “Our relationship is growing a lot stronger, and he continues to give me mentorship.”

Coleman has a busy summer ahead.

He competes in the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento this weekend. The USATF meet serves as a qualifier for the USA Team that will compete in the World Championships in London in August.

After his showing in the NCAA outdoors, Coleman says he’s ready.

“I think I have the same confidence level as I always have,” he points out. “I think I put in the work, and I think I have the talent level to be able to compete with anybody.”

Coleman has come a long way since picking up track and football as a 5-year-old in Atlanta. He excelled at both sports. But for Coleman, there was no question about his future. It was track, not football, and his success this year is a reminder he made the right decision.

“This lets me know that if I continue to follow God’s path then I will always come out successful,” Coleman explains. “That was what he had in his plan for me. He just led me to come (to Tennessee), and it’s been the best situation for me so far. I have a great future ahead of me in track and field, so I haven’t given football a second thought at all.”

Nor has he given a second thought about his collegiate choice.

Tennessee was the first major school to recruit him, and he didn’t waver from his commitment to the Vols during a coaching change before the 2014-15 season. Beth Alford-Sullivan was hired as director of track and field/cross country to replace J.J. Clark, whose contract was not renewed.

“I just think whenever someone visits here, they come with a sense of pride as they walk around, and seeing all the orange and the meaning behind the ‘Power T,’” Coleman says.

“I also knew we had one of the best sprint coaches (Tim Hall) in the country coming in too, so that played a big part in the decision.”

Hall was an assistant at UNC Charlotte (1996-2008), Clemson (2008-13), and Kentucky (2013-14) before joining Alford. He recalls a sprinter with raw talent when he watched Coleman in the 2014 Georgia state high school track meet.

As a senior at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High in Fayetteville, Georgia, Coleman won state titles in the 100-meter, 200-meter, the long jump, and anchored the winning 400-meter relay team.

“Again, I keep alluding to his desire to be the best,” Hall says of Coleman. “This is one determined individual. He makes the ultimate sacrifice in terms of doing the necessary things to be prepared for that moment.

“He has all the tools to accomplish or finish the task at hand, which is to make the World Championship team.”

Coleman’s made fast strides at UT.

As a freshman, he earned first-team All-America honors in the 60-meter after placing sixth in the NCAA Indoors in 6.62 seconds. He was the SEC Men’s Freshman Runner of the Year for indoors, and finished 15th in the 100- and 200-meters in the NCAA Outdoors in 2015.

In the 2016 Indoors, Coleman won the NCAA 200-meter, was third in the 60-meter and was on the 1600-meter relay team that finished fifth.

In 2016 outdoors, Coleman was second in both the NCAA 100- and 200-meter. He ran the second leg of Team USA’s 400-meter relay team that won its heat in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

His breakout season came this year. Coleman set the 100-meter collegiate record in the semifinals of the NCAA Outdoors with a time of 9.82 seconds, which is tied for ninth-best all-time. He got the second-fastest collegiate time (19.85 seconds) in the 200 while running into a headwind at the NCAA East preliminaries.

His 60-meter indoor time (6.45 seconds) in the NCAA Indoors is tied for the world’s fastest time this year and tied a collegiate record, and his 200-meter time (20.11) is currently the world’s fastest time this year and is the second-fastest time in collegiate history.

The soft-spoken Coleman can claim to be “The World’s Fastest Human,” but you won’t hear him say it. He’s too humble.

“As far as staying grounded, I just tell myself, ‘I wasn’t always at this level,’” Coleman notes. “I had to work to be able to make it to this level, so you know you have to continue to work hard and do the same things to be able to maintain and stay at this level. That’s just my mindset coming into now and the rest of my career.”

Coleman was one of 10 semifinalists announced last week for the Bowerman Award, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate male and female track and field athletes of the year. He’s also the 2017 Indoor and Outdoor track athlete of the year.

Hall, the USTFCCA men’s assistant coach of the year, adds Coleman’s drive makes him a top candidate for the Bowerman Award.

“I think it’s his overall resolve to be the best athlete in his respective events,” Hall says.

“Some of the things we talked about coming into the season off the Olympic year (2016) was winning the double (in indoors and outdoors). I remember one conversation we had, he asked if I felt that he could win the double indoor, and I said, ‘Absolutely. These are the things we have to get done.’

“He then went on to ask about the double outdoors, and I said, ‘Absolutely. These are the things we have to get done.’ He immediately got on board. The buy-in was immediate. He made the transformation in terms of his nutrition, his rest, hitting the weight room, those things that are going to make you a champion and a prospect for the Bowerman.”

While starting his pro career, Coleman plans to continue classes at UT in pursuit of his degree in sports management and keep training at Tennessee under Hall.

And he will continue the same routines and stay grounded. No matter how big the paychecks.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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