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VOL. 133 | NO. 90 | Friday, May 4, 2018

Little-Known Coleman Wowing Fans in Europe

Dave Link, Knoxville Sports Correspondent

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Christian Coleman is just another guy when he’s on campus at the University of Tennessee.

It changes when he goes overseas, where Coleman, who has a seven-figure contract with Nike, is a star, the world-record holder in the 60-meter indoors and one of the fastest runners in the world. After turning pro last summer, Coleman still trains at Tennessee under sprints coach Tim Hall, took classes this spring and plans to graduate in December.

All with a low-profile.

“It’s kind of pretty much the same as last year, except I’m a professional now,” Coleman says. “You have a few more obligations, a lot more pressure on me to perform, but I’m going to have the same coach, I’m still taking classes, have the same friends, and so, I guess a few things are different but a few things are the same.

Christian Coleman celebrates winning the gold medal in the men’s 60-meter race March 3, 2018, at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Great Britain. (Submitted)

“I’m excited about the future.”

Coleman’s immediate future is the IAAF’s “Diamond League” series, a 14-stop tour of track and field meets from May 4-Aug. 31, mostly in Europe. His long-term future is the 2019 IAAF World Championships from Sept. 28-Oct. 6 in Doha, Qatar, and the 2020 Summer Olympics from July 24-Aug. 9 in Tokyo.

Coleman will make his debut on the Diamond Tour May 12 in Shanghai, China, after bypassing the first meet in Doha. He returns to the United States for the third Diamond Tour event, the Prefontaine Classic May 25-26 in Eugene, Oregon.

“This season is kind of weird because it’s not a big championship year,” Coleman acknowledges. “There’s no World Championships or Olympics, and so for me with it being my first full professional year, I think that’s a good thing for me to just really focus in and make sure I stay on the top of my game and just continue to run faster, try and do things and see what works for me in terms of trying to PR (personal record) and run faster times and stay consistent and use the same formula going into next year, 2019, the World Championships, and then 2020, the Olympics.

“I don’t have any specific goals for this season, just to make sure I’m ready to roll for the upcoming years.”

Coleman experienced a meteoric rise to the top of the sprinting world last year. Last 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.

Former Tennessee and current pro star Justin Gatlin is the only other sprinter to complete the NCAA’s four-race, indoor-outdoor sweep. Gatlin did so in 2002.

After turning pro before his senior year, Coleman went to the World Championships in London in early August and finished second behind Gatlin and ahead of sprinting legend Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who was third.

It was another boost of confidence for Coleman.

“Anytime you can go to a major championship and come out with a medal, especially in a race of that magnitude with so many greats on the same (start) line, it does a lot for your confidence because you know you can compete at the highest level, compete with the best in the sport, the best that the sport has to offer,” Coleman points out.

“For me, moving forward after that, I felt like even before that I worked and I belonged, but I think that just kind of solidified it for me that this is where I belong, this is what I should be doing, and I look forward to making it to the World Championships and Olympics and trying to come up with medals.”

This past winter, Coleman actually set world records in the 60-meter indoors twice.

Coleman ran a 6.37-second 60 at the Clemson Invitational on Jan. 19, breaking the record of 6.39 set by Maurice Greene in 1998. However, Coleman’s time wasn’t ratified as a world record due to the lack of electronic starting blocks and on-site drug testing at the Clemson Invitational.

It didn’t deter Coleman from an even better run in the USATF Indoor Championships on Feb. 18 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With a blazing finish over the last 20 meters, Coleman posted a time of 6.34 seconds to solidify his standing as the World’s Fastest Man over 60 meters.

“That’s a crazy feeling, to know that you did something that nobody’s ever done before,” Coleman says. “I feel that’s what you live for when you run track and field. You want to do something that nobody’s ever done. You don’t want to just be in the mix. You want to be at the top of the field.

“I’ve put in a lot of work, me and my coach, and the 60 is kind of perfect for me. I have a really good start. We felt like I could run a pretty good time.

“The first meet (at Clemson), I was just kind of going out there and seeing where I was at the first meet and ended up breaking the world record, and then had to do it again. It was a pretty crazy indoor season and really exciting. Holding the world record is pretty incredible.”

Coleman, who finished the spring semester at UT with exams last week, can’t wait for the next phase of his career and relishes the travel involved.

After the Prefontaine Classic, the Diamond League goes to Rome on May 31, followed by stops at Oslo, Norway; Stockholm, Sweden; Paris; Lausanne, Switzerland; Rabat, Morocco; Monaco; London and Birmingham, Great Britain; Zurich, Switzerland; and Brussels, Belgium.

It’s a whirlwind world tour, a dream come true for the Atlanta native.

“That’s a pretty unique thing,” he explains. “I think that’s the best thing about track and field is you get a chance to really travel the world and do what you love to do, and when you go different places, it’s not like football or basketball or something where some sports, they don’t really play that (sport). But everybody loves track and field around the world, and everybody can relate to running fast times.

“I think that’s the best thing about track and field, especially me, (being) just a little kid from Atlanta. I know people who have never even been outside of the city, and me getting a chance to go and travel the world and experience these things is really a blessing. It’s an honor and I’m really excited about it.”

Coleman notes track and field athletes are treated differently overseas than in the United States. They hardly share the limelight with any other athletes.

“I guess it’s just here the big three sports are football, basketball, and baseball, and track and field athletes just kind of have to take a back seat to that, but when we go overseas, we’re like one of the main sports,” Coleman adds.

“I guess it’s a good thing, but I think track and field is growing in the United States, and people are starting to take more notice as the sport’s getting more exciting and different people are running really fast times and doing good things in the sport. Overseas, we’re like stars over there, and they really care about track and field.”

The soft-spoken Coleman is getting accustomed to being a star. He’s being billed as the world’s next great sprinter, in the mold of Bolt and Gatlin, both of whom have made millions with professional track.

Such great expectations – and the pressure coming with them – don’t faze Coleman.

“A lot of pressure comes with it, but I just kind of use it as a positive to push me forward instead of a negative and folding under pressure and not being able to perform under the lights and at big meets,” Coleman says.

“I kind of just use it as, I belong here, I’ve really worked hard, and I feel like the harder you work and the further you go in the sport, the more pressure’s going to be, and I feel like that’s what I was built for, to be able to perform under pressure.

“I love it. I love competing against the best guys, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do.”

Coleman knows his former teammates at Tennessee are cheering for him. He also knows they consider him just another guy who happens to be a World’s Fastest Man.

“They try to not really show that they’re like fans or anything like that,” Coleman says. “I see them all the time, so it’s like those are my friends, those are my brothers and sisters, and so we’ve got a really good relationship, me and my teammates. I know that they follow me and support me.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Loudon County.

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