Walter Dix felt ready to take down Usain Bolt after sweeping the 100m and 200m at the U.S. Championships in 2011.
“I want [Bolt] to be at his best, so when I beat him there will be no excuses,” he said in Eugene, Ore., three years ago.
Dix didn’t conquer the great Jamaican. He won two silver medals at the 2011 World Championships, behind Bolt in the 200m and Yohan Blake in the 100m, after Bolt infamously false started out of the final in the lane next to Dix.
The last two years, it’s been Dix who hasn’t been at his best. He was beaten by a balky left hamstring in the 100m semifinals of both the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Championships, missing the London Olympics and Moscow World Championships.
U.S. sprinting attention since reverted to Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay. Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion back from a four-year doping ban, and Gay, the American record holder who hasn’t raced since revealing he failed at least one drug test last spring.
Dix has noticed he’s not a marquee attraction anymore, but he’s not taking it personally and making no excuses.
“I have been hurt the last couple years; it’s part of the game,” said Dix, now 28 and “a free agent” after being a Nike-sponsored athlete from 2008 through 2012. “The people that are running good times are the ones whose names are being said the most. Gatlin was right behind Bolt at the last World Championships. Gay was right behind Bolt in 2012. Those are the experienced guys. They show up when it comes to major meets. You can’t take anything away from them. I have to wait my turn.”
That’s patience from a man whose young confidence complemented Bolt’s no-worries attitude a few years ago. After the 2008 Olympic 100m semifinals, Dix reportedly looked at Bolt, who is eight inches taller, and said, “There ain’t going to be no jogging in the final.”
But there was. Bolt ran a world record 9.69, slowing and slapping his chest crossing the finish line, .22 ahead of Dix’s bronze-medal effort. Dix offered one of the quotes of the Olympics in an NBC interview afterward, summing up Bolt’s performance.
“The guy can run,” Dix said.
Dix did not witness Bolt’s triple gold feat at the World Championships last summer. He was focused on training in Europe, where he ran 9.99 seconds in Rieti, Italy, on Sept. 8, wearing a camouflage racing suit and sunglasses. It was his first sub-10-second 100m since that comment about beating Bolt in 2011.
Dix said last season marked the best finish to a year of his career, motivation he carried over to fall work in the weight room. He’s also moved from Southern California to train under University of South Carolina assistant Kevin Brown and has received encouragement from 2004 Olympic 200m champion Shawn Crawford, a South Carolina native.
On Saturday, Dix anchored a U.S. 4x100m team at the Penn Relays and held off a hard-charging Jamaican to win by .01. It wasn’t Bolt. It wasn’t Blake. It was Oshane Bailey, who owns a personal best of 10.11 seconds, a half-second slower than Bolt’s record and nearly a quarter-second slower than Dix’s top time from 2010.
Dix’s next races are in Jamaica on Saturday, the Cayman Islands on May 7 and Puerto Rico the following week. He hopes to be part of the U.S. team at the first IAAF World Relays Championships from May 24-25. He’s not yet entered in any bigger Diamond League meets, the ones frequented by Bolt, who made his own injury news this year.
“Part of the sport is being hurt and having to come back,” Dix said. “I think I should be better [than before the injuries]. I’m stronger.”
Fully healthy, Dix believes he’s in shape to challenge his best 100m time of 9.88. He’ll need to be to achieve his goal for this year.
“Win every race that I run,” Dix said.