Christian Coleman‘s sights are on gold medals and, perhaps as early this season, an American record. They’re certainly not on the men chasing him, usually the rest of the field, in the last half of 100m races.
Coleman, the world’s fastest man in this Olympic cycle, headlines a Diamond League meet in Oslo on Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold, and 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN). He is the clear favorite in the 100m against a field lacking his biggest recent foes.
One of those absentees is Noah Lyles. The world’s fastest 200m sprinter in this Olympic cycle dipped down to the 100m on May 18 in Shanghai and rallied to beat Coleman by .006. The photo finish and following social media posts sparked talk of a new rivalry in the post-Usain Bolt era.
“I don’t necessarily look at us as rivals,” Coleman said Monday. “I think I’ve done a lot of things in the sport. I’m just focusing on me and trying to be the best me that I can be. If the media wants to create whatever storylines, whatever, so be it. I just treat everybody the same way, all of my competition. I don’t single out one person and say this is my competition that I’m focusing on.”
What Coleman is targeting is a cleaner sprint in Oslo than his season opener in Shanghai. The goal is to better 9.86, which would make him the fastest man in the world this year.
“My start was decent [in Shanghai], but I feel like I can work on my acceleration being a lot smoother, my transition, standing up tall, holding my form, composure so I can finish out the race,” Coleman said of his first meet since Aug. 31. “When you come back, and it’s your first race in a while, it’s hard to reciprocate real-life competition in practice. You never know how your body’s going to react when you actually get in competition. It’s just old, bad habits I’ve been trying to fix in practice creeped up on me in the competition.”
Coleman’s start is unrivaled. He’s best known outside the track world for covering a 40-yard dash in 4.12 seconds, a tenth faster than the NFL Combine record. He’s also the fastest 60m sprinter in history.
In the biggest race of his life, Coleman had a step on Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin in the first 10 meters at the 2017 World Championships. He led until the last few strides, before Gatlin edged him by two hundredths. Then on May 18, Coleman again surged to the early lead and held it until Lyles, known more for his finish than his start, nudged ahead at the line.
“Track and field is an art,” Coleman said. “It’s a difficult sport to be able to say, just stay relaxed at the end of the race and just hold your form well. Whatever people like to say online about critiquing world-class athletes’ races, it is harder than it looks.
“It’s much easier to fix the back end of my race than to have a better start. Getting a better start and having that acceleration is more like strength and technique, and one of those things that you can’t just teach overnight and you can’t just think about mentally and get better at. I feel like I’m in a good spot.”
Coleman is certainly better positioned than a year ago, when he struggled in the spring with a hamstring injury.
Coleman, after running faster than the previous indoor 60m world record three times that winter, didn’t hit his summer stride until late August. He ran a personal-best 9.79 into a headwind in the Diamond League Final, arguably the most impressive sprint by anybody outside the Bolt era.
“Last year, I think just indoors I took my body to a place where nobody had ever been before,” Coleman said. “I think, maybe, if I had taken a little bit of time off before I started my outdoor season … I wasn’t doing the things properly off the track to be able to stay healthy.”
Still, the 9.79 put Coleman within a tenth of the American record set by Tyson Gay in 2009.
“It’s not necessarily a goal,” Coleman said, “but it’s something that’s been in the back of my head.”
Coleman may not be ready to approach that in Oslo, given he plans to peak for worlds in almost four months.
He hopes to qualify for the world team in both the 100m and the 200m at next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships. Next week, Coleman races a 200m for the first time since June 2017.
“I know what it feels like to be on that stage, and I know what it takes to get there,” he said, looking ahead to worlds in Doha. “I know how to set my season up to be at my best when it really matters. That’s all I’m focusing on. Everything else is irrelevant. The name of our sport and what we get paid to do is represent our countries and go out there and try and get gold medals.”
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