Lauryn Williams

Getty Images

Usain Bolt joins list of two-sport sprinters

Leave a comment

Usain Bolt is far from the first gold-medal sprinter to translate speed into another sport.

As the world’s fastest man attempts to catch on with an Australian professional soccer team, a look back at other notable Olympic speedsters who plied other trades (photo credits: Getty Images) …

Justin Gatlin, Football

The 2004 Olympic 100m champion tried out for the Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a wide receiver in 2006 and 2007, during his four-year doping ban, but did not sign a full contract.

“I was very green, didn’t know how to run a route at all,” Gatlin told The PostGame in 2017, adding that then-Bucs coach Jon Gruden nicknamed him “Gold Medal.” “It was serious … the guys knew that I came with some credentials and I was there to learn and take everything in.

“A lot of people think, OK, you’re fast and you’re a 100m sprinter, so you can be a wide receiver. Contrary to popular belief, a 400m runner is way more fitting for a wide receiver role. … [Play after play] it’s all about really endurance and actually governing your speed.”

Lauryn Williams, Bobsled

Bobsled has a long history of converts — from Herschel Walker to Chris Chelios — but Williams is the only athlete to earn Olympic sprint and bobsled medals.

The 2004 Olympic 100m silver medalist was inspired to try the ice sport in June 2013, when she ran into recent bobsled convert Lolo Jones at an airport.

“Why not get out there and try it?,” said Williams, who was retiring from track and field. “I didn’t really have any plans for the rest of my life.”

She was just about a natural. Ten months after hearing Jones out, Williams pushed the top U.S. sled at the Sochi Olympics, earning another silver medal with Elana Meyers Taylor.

After Sochi, Meyers Taylor picked up rugby and tried to convert Williams to a third Olympic sport, but to no avail. Williams retired from all competition in 2015.

“I fell in love with bobsled after just six months and wish I had found it sooner,” Williams said. “It really poured a refreshing sense of life into my heart, which was just what I needed at this point in my life.”

Yohan Blake, Cricket

Yohan Blake

Blake hasn’t gone pro in cricket, though he has played locally in Jamaica, famously breaking the rear windshield of a car a few weeks after becoming the joint-second fastest man of all time.

In 2014, Blake said he wanted to play for one of England’s most successful cricket clubs, Yorkshire, saying he “can bowl fast and hit the ball miles.”

“Somewhere around 26-27 I think I’ll reach my peak in athletics, so somewhere around 29-30 I want to be playing cricket,” Blake said then, according to the Guardian.

There has been considerably less cricket talk regarding Blake, who is now 28, since he returned from major hamstring injuries in 2015 and missed the individual podium at the Olympics and world championships.

Bob Hayes, Football

The only man to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl, but much more than that. “Bullet” was nearly unbeatable from 1962 through the 1964 Olympics, winning 49 straight races at one point.

At the Tokyo Games, Hayes matched the 100m world record and won by the largest margin in history at the time, then anchored the 4x100m relay to a world record, rallying with an unofficially timed 8.6-second leg (video here).

He turned to the NFL after his Olympic triumphs, like several U.S. star sprinters did in that era. Hayes revolutionized the game. When he entered the league, pass defenses were limited to man-to-man. But Hayes’ speed was too much for any defender, which led to zone defenses that have become prevalent in today’s game.

“Maybe I don’t know the fakes now, but I sure know you gotta have them, and that’s more than most pure sprinters know,” Hayes said before starting his pro football career, according to Sports Illustrated. “I’ve studied all the good flankers, and I think I can catch a ball with any of them, and I’m faster.”

He played 11 NFL seasons, breaking Dallas Cowboys records for receiving yards and touchdowns, and made three Pro Bowls. Olympic sprint medalists to follow Hayes into the NFL included Tommie Smith

Hayes died of kidney failure at age 59 in 2002 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Marion Jones, Basketball

Jones, who was stripped of three gold medals and two bronzes from the 2000 Olympics after admitting to doping, played basketball before and after her sprint career.

As a freshman, she was the starting point guard for the University of North Carolina’s NCAA title-winning team. She played three seasons before concentrating fully on track and field, earning All-America consideration from multiple publications, and remains one of UNC’s career scoring average leaders (16.8 points per game).

Jones served six months in prison in 2008 for lying under oath about her performance-enhancing drug use and a check fraud scam.

In 2010, she signed with the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock as a 34-year-old mother of three. She averaged 2.6 points over 47 games in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

“The biggest surprise is just how strong and just physical the ladies are. … I’m strong, but I feel like I’m easily bumped around,” Jones said in her first season. “Maybe a little of it is age.”

NBC Olympic Research and the OlyMADMen contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Christian Coleman wins Birmingham Diamond League 100m in photo finish

Converted sprinter Ryan Bailey wins bobsled national title

Courtesy of USA Bobsled
Leave a comment

Sprinter Ryan Bailey proved that he is not just fast on the track, winning the men’s push athlete title at the USA Bobsled National Push Championships in Calgary on Wednesday.

Bailey, who finished fifth in the London Olympic 100m and anchored the 2012 U.S. 4x100m relay team, is just weeks into his bobsled career.

“I didn’t know what to think coming into this competition,” Bailey said to USA Bobsled. “To actually win the first year, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

Nick Cunningham, who represented the U.S. in bobsled at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, was impressed by watching Bailey in Calgary.

“Ryan has progressed extremely quickly,” Cunningham said to NBC OlympicTalk. “He has a medal-filled future if he sticks with the sport.”

Bailey’s performance puts him in a good position to make the U.S. team for the 2016-17 World Cup season, which begins the last weekend of November.

His goal is to make the 2018 Olympic team. He would be following in the footsteps of Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams, who both competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics after competing at a Summer Olympics as a sprinter. The last male Summer Olympian to make a U.S. Olympic bobsled team was Willie Davenport in 1980.

“To get a chance to compete in the Winter Olympics would be amazing,” Bailey said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be possible, so getting this chance is mind blowing.”

Bailey was expected to compete against Tyson Gay, the American 100m record holder. Gay arrived in Calgary on Monday, but after meeting with the coaching staff, decided not to compete today. Gay, who has pushed a sled no more than 10 times, watched the competition and is expected to continue training with the team. He could still enter the combination pushes on Friday or Saturday.

Another former sprinter, 56-year-old Willie Gault, nearly competed in Calgary (his name has been erased in the scoreboard below between Brent Fogt and Nathan Gilsleider). Gault, who played wide receiver for the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Raiders, has been assisting the USA Bobsled coaching staff with recruiting. He flew to Calgary on Tuesday and considered competing, but decided against it Wednesday morning.

Two-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor won the women’s driver title. 2010 Olympic gold medalist Justin Olson won the men’s pilot title, and Aja Evans won the women’s push title after a two-year hiatus from the sport.

MORE: Johnny Quinn leaves door open for bobsled return

Allyson Felix, Justin Gatlin ushered in new era of U.S. sprints

Allyson Felix, Justin Gatlin
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s about 3 a.m. on Aug. 22, 2004, and little Lauryn Williams staggers back into athlete housing at the Athens Olympics.

Williams, a 20-year-old who would speak at her University of Miami business school graduation four months later, had that night placed second in the marquee women’s event of the Olympics — the 100m final — in her first individual event at a global championship. And then gone through hours of interviews, drug testing and all-around congratulations.

When she finally finished all that, she found Justin Gatlin. Gatlin, also an Olympic rookie, also competed at the Athens Olympic Stadium that night, winning his 100m quarterfinal heat. Gatlin would take gold in the event and be crowned the world’s fastest man about 18 hours after his encounter with the dog-tired Williams.

Williams laid out on the floor of their compound. Gatlin spoke.

“How are you feeling?” Gatlin asked.

“Well, I lost,” Williams said.

(This was a reversal of her immediate reaction on the track, when she could be heard yelling, “I’ll take the silver medal,” seconds after her name flashed on the scoreboard below that of Belarus’ Yulia Nesterenko, who beat Williams 10.93 to 10.96 seconds, the margin about the same as their difference in reaction time. Nesterenko had never broken 11 seconds before the Games, then did so in all four rounds in Athens, and never came close to doing so again.)

Gatlin responded.

“You’re No. 2 in the whole world,” he said. “You’re like one of the best athletes ever. What are you talking about?”

Williams was still lying on the floor.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right,'” Williams recalled last week. “I definitely remember it very specifically, like it being very late and a lot of people still being up when I got back, and him really lifting me up in that moment.”

Maurice Greene was 30 years old in Athens, in what would be his Olympic farewell. He took 100m bronze behind Gatlin and Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu in a failed bid to join Carl Lewis as the only men to repeat as Olympic champion in the event.

In Athens, Greene couldn’t help but notice the unflappable presence of the youngest U.S. Olympic track and field competitor in 28 years — an 18-year-old named Allyson Felix.

“Nothing really fazed her,” Greene said, leaning back on a Manhattan hotel couch last week. “You just knew it was something special there.”

Felix, who had already turned professional, best expressed her poise to American viewers with calm, seemingly calculated responses in post-race interviews with NBC’s Bob Neumeier. Felix earned silver in the 200m on Aug. 25, matching Williams’ result from four days earlier.

“We were kind of like deers in headlights at the time, but we knew that something was changing,” Williams said last week. “There was a whole new brigade of us.”

Williams was speaking about not just herself, Felix and Gatlin, but of a larger group that debuted at the Athens Olympics and largely carried U.S. sprints through the next two Olympics.

Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic 200m champion. Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2012 Olympic 400m champion. DeeDee Trotter, the 2012 Olympic 400m bronze medalist. Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic 400m champion.

Williams retired after London 2012, but everybody else is still competing. A large group of them could complete their Olympic careers in Rio, should they qualify.

Even Crawford, who had retired after missing the 2012 Olympic team but failed to take his name out of the drug-testing pool and was banned two years in 2013 for failure to update drug testers on his whereabouts. Crawford is planning to return once his ban is up in April, his agent said earlier this year, and Crawford is again being drug tested.

Gatlin and Felix are the headliners, the faces of U.S. men’s and women’s sprinting. Felix said last week that she and Gatlin hung out together in a lounge area at the Paris 2003 World Championships, when Felix made her global championship debut and Gatlin was there but not competing.

“We had both come on the professional scene right around the same time, and I think we were really just drawn into each other because we really didn’t know anybody else and everybody else was much older than us,” Felix said.

Their careers separated after Athens. Felix continued to be a global star, winning three World 200m titles and eventually her first Olympic 200m title in 2012. She won her first World 400m title this year and could go for a Michael Johnson-like 200m-400m double in Rio.

Gatlin tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, served a four-year ban and returned to the sport in 2010. He gradually improved and the last two years has been running the fastest times of his career, drawing scrutiny at the advanced age of 33.

Gatlin said he and Felix were “like sidekicks” in 2003. They conversed together and with others at a USA Track and Field Hall of Fame ceremony in New York last week.

“Her journey that she went through, basically setting the trend for a lot of these high school kids to come out and turn pro, she really captured lightning in a bottle for a dream,” Gatlin said.

When Gatlin trained to come back to the sport in 2010, Greene was one of the previous generation of sprinters with whom he spoke.

“Why do you want to come back,” Greene asked him, “because people are going to talk a lot about you.”

Gatlin asserted that he would rise above the stain of his doping ban.

“He came back to prove it,” Greene said.

To those who question why he’s running so fast at a time when most sprinters are past their primes, Gatlin always says he feels younger because of the four years he was forced to take off from the sport.

“Maybe the time off did him a lot of good,” Greene said.

Eventually, Gatlin and Felix will step aside, either by choice or by being pushed out by another new group of U.S. sprinters.

“There’s a lot of kids,” Felix said. “There’s so much going on I don’t think we can name one person. We’re going to see that emerge. You have Kaylin Whitney [a 17-year-old who has broken 22.50 in the 200m each of the last two years], Candace Hill [a 16-year-old who ran 10.98 over 100m this year] and a lot of really young girls. They need time to develop before we crown them.”

Gatlin noted training partner Isiah Young, 25, who finished second to Gatlin in the 200m at last summer’s U.S. Championships, and Trayvon Bromell, 20, who shared the World Championships 100m bronze behind Bolt and Gatlin.

“[Bromell] is like a younger version of me when it comes to having a hunger for it,” Gatlin said, “but not realizing the magnitude of what you’re doing.”

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Justin Gatlin still regrets Worlds loss as 2016 nears