By ELLIOTT DENMAN
LANDOVER, MD. - All of Wallace Spearmon Jr.'s track and field memories aren't glittery and golden.
It's a piece of information he wanted to impress on all in his audience of eager-eared listeners at the Speed, Endurance and Technique Summit, the gathering last Friday night that served as an inspirational prologue to the Nike Indoor National Championships at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex which opened the following morning.
"When I was your age, I came here to this meet and made the finals (of the 200-meter dash)," he said. "But in the finals, I got blasted, I got last place, I ran terrible."
The NIN archives spell out the details.
Spearmon, then a senior at Fayetteville, Ark, High School, had finally turned serious about track and field that winter of 2003 after focusing previously on basketball and his wide receiver's role on the Fayetteville football team. Full of promise but short on major-meet experience, he ran a 22.37 to qualify for that '03 one-lap final.
But with everything on the line in the final, he came up far short.
As the gold medal was going to J-Mee Samuels of Winston-Salem, N.C. in 21.76 seconds, Spearmon, running out of the tough lane one, was lagging badly, never got back in the hunt, and wound up fifth in the five-man race. If his time for that lap, 22.70, sounds relatively pedestrian five years later, well, the truth is that it is.
These days, as hs runs in his sport's biggest meets, travels in the world's fastest company, gears up for the USA Olympic Trials and most likely the Beijing Olympic Games in August, he probably does his pre-race warmup jogs faster than 22.70. He might even be able to walk a 200 faster than 22.70. Such is his amazing progress to the very top echelon of his sport's charts.
When he ran the 200 meters in 19.65 seconds late last summer, in a post-World Championships meet staged in Daegu, Korea, he leaped into fourth place on the world all-time list. Only fellow Americans Michael Johnson (19.32, 1996), Tyson Gay (19.62, 2007) and Xavier Carter (19.63, 2006) stand ahead of Spearmon in the whole history of track and field.
Among the illustrious names listed behind his 19.65 are Frankie Fredericks, Petro Mennea, Michael Marsh, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Joe DeLoach and Ato Boldon. And a check of the all-time 200- meter list for indoor track reveals Spearmon as the number two-man ever, with his 20.10 performance on his hometown Randall Tyson track in Fayettevile in 2005. Only Namibia's redoubtable Fredericks, once a star at Brigham Young University, with his 19.92 performance at Lievin, France in 1996, ever bested Spearmon's20.10 in indoor racing.
To think that Spearmon became a genuinely world-class sprinter little more than a year after running fifth and last at the NIN meet is mind-boggling. But it's the truth, the whole truth, and you can look it all up.
By the spring of his freshman year at the University of Arkansas, he'd clocked a 20.12 outdoor 200, took silver at the SEC Championships and the gold in the NCAA final. But the Olympic Trials proved disappointing - he ran just eighth in the semis at 20.92.
The 2005 season - his finale as a collegian - saw him running 20.20 (through the rain) to place second in the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, and win the NCAA final in 19.91. Furthermore, he clocked 19.89 in a London meet to lead the year list.
By 2006 he was a professional runner and capped his new status by winning the USA Nationals in 19.90 and the IAAF World Cup in a meet-record 19.87.
When 2007 rolled around, a 19.89 second-place performance, back of ex-Arkansas teammate Tyson Gay, in the USA Nationals at Indianapolis won him another spot on the USA World Championships team, now bound for Osaka, Japan, and there he delivered both a 20.05 third-place in the 200 final and a leg on the American gold-medal 4x100 relay team. Oh, and he had that stunning 19.65 200 in Korea and a personal-best 9.96 100 meters to round out a superb pre-Olympic season.
Needless to say, all those gaudy performances captured the full attention of Speed, Endurance and Technique Summit-goers. His bottom-line advice to all of them: "Anything is possible, God willing. " Some of you all may be running in the Olympics and World Championships, too, some day. "If it doesn't happen one year, it might happen the next, you never know. " So stand up. do well in school, train hard and listen to your coach, whatever he tells you.
"It might sound crazy to you sometime, but he'll know. My coaches told me some crazy things, too. But you know what? They worked. "Listen to your coach and believe in yourself." Spearmon has been blessed with good coaches.
His Dad and first track coach, Wallace Spearmon Sr., was a two-time All-America runner for Coach John McDonnell at Arkansas and in 1984 was a member of the Razorbacks' first NCAA title-winning team. Dad still serves as Spearmon Jr.'s mentor, while McDonnell played a huge role in Jr.'s own progress through his two undergraduate campaigns.
Speed, Endurance and Technique Summit sprint division director Dan Fichter - who heads the famed "Wanna Get Fast" training and conditioning school in Rochester, N.Y. - was understandably happy to have Spearmon on his team for this session. "You've probably seen some of these drills before, they're no secret," said Spearmon. But the sight of the global medalist going through his array of steps, bounds and blow-out runs, all focusing - at Fichter's direction - on biomechanical positioning, core-strengthening, injury reduction, and more, gave all the young runners a whole better sense of purpose.
"I think it's a great thing for high school kids to have a national meet like this," said Spearmon. "I don't know if some of the things we were saying sunk in, or went over their heads, but if it helped just some of them, then we've done a good thing. "My father was a great runner, but he didn't push me into track. I played baseball, football, soccer, too, as a kid.
"It was the Olympics, the big show, that really turned me on to track and field in a big way, in 2004. I wanted to take it to another level. "I wished I made the(Olympic) team that year, but it wasn't meant to be. "But when I ran that 20.10 indoors and 19.89 outdoors in 2005, that's when I really came of age. "It wasn't really amazing to me. I never stopped to think about it. "I guess I'm blessed. When I put my mind to something, I can usually do it.
"You'll definitely have to run sub-20 to make this year's Olympic team, probably sub-19.9, maybe even 19.7." In addition to reigning world champion Tyson Gay, Spearmon sees such other Americans as Xavier Carter, Walter Dix, Rubin Williams, Rodney Martin and Charles Clark as top candidates for the three Olympic spots at 200 meters. Defending Olympic champion Shawn Crawford may be in the hunt, too. "And there are probably a lot of sleepers out there whose names we don't even know," he said.
"The United States has so many great sprinters, year in and year out. "To win the Olympics, it's probably going to take a 19.5."
How about an eventual shot at Michael Johnson's dozen-year-old 19.32 "Anything's possible, anything, definitely," said Spearmon. "I guess everything we (America's international runners) are doing right now is going to inspire the great sprinters that are sure to follow.
"Maybe even some of the kids who are in this building tonight." Two more Spearmons might be in their Uncle Sam's future book, as well. Back home in Fayetteville are kid brother Christopher, 8, and kid sister, Katherine, 6. "They're pretty quick for their age," said their big brother, smiling.