“I love doing special things,” says the world 60m record-holder as he sets his focus on sprinting to gold at Birmingham 2018
Christian Coleman headed to the city of Clemson, South Carolina, in the middle of January wondering “where he was at” following a hard winter of training and preparations for his season opener.
It didn’t take long for the world to find out.
In his preliminary heat at the invitational event, the 21-year-old ran a world-leading 6.45 for the 60m, equal to his personal best and a time many sprinters would be delighted with.
He followed that up, however, with a scorching 6.37, seemingly lowering Maurice Greene’s world record of 6.39 which had been set in 1998. Though Coleman’s mark would remain unratified due to the absence of electronic starting blocks, the performance went far from unnoticed.
Had it been a fluke? Could he run that quickly again? His next meeting, in Boston, saw him clock ‘only’ 6.46 for victory. Then, however, came the US trials for the IAAF World Indoor Championships. Yes, they took place at an advantageous altitude in Albuquerque but when Coleman eased down on his way through the heat in 6.46, it was clear something remarakable might be in the thin air.
In his semi-final he lit the touchpaper with 6.42 before the fireworks really went off when he charged his way to victory in the final in an astonishing time of 6.34. In terms of a signal to send out to the competition ahead of the World Indoors, Coleman could not have delivered anything more emphatic.
He is now the undoubted favourite to land gold in Birmingham. Whether he can do so in yet another record-breaking time remains to be seen. Greene is convinced the man who ran the quickest 100m on the planet last year (9.82) can, particularly given he had a sluggish start in the Albuquerque final, while Coleman himself certainly isn’t about to shy away from any challenges coming his way.
“I’ve got a target on my back but I love that and I love racing the best competition, on the biggest stage”
“I don’t really look at it as any pressure, I just embrace it,” he says. “I love the track, I love racing, I love competition, I love pushing my limits, I love doing special things.
“Now a lot of people are going to be watching, a lot of people are going to be wanting to race me. I’ve got a target on my back but I love that and I love racing the best competition, on the biggest stage, with lots of people watching.
“There will be a lot of expectations out there and I want to exceed them. It’s exciting to me.”
For such a young man, there is an evident maturity to Coleman to go along with an understated confidence and a general feeling of being able to take everything in his lightning fast stride.
For example, there was a particularly philosophical way of looking at his unratified record in Clemson.
“To me, there’s wasn’t really any frustration,” he adds. “You can’t really expect anybody to do that (run a world record) at a smaller meet like that so they didn’t have the right specifications in place for something like that to count. I think they have gone back and installed electronic blocks at Clemson now that they realise they’ve got a really fast track. It’s a bit late for me, though!”
He chuckles with the last remark, betraying his relaxed mood as he looks forward to what lies ahead on his return to the UK. Last summer in London was a revelation to Coleman in many ways. It wasn’t just the playing to a packed house, or that the crowds were so knowledgeable about what they were watching. Coleman might be one of the best in the world at what he does but he is largely anonymous to an American public whose minds tend to zone in on other sports.
“A lot of people recognised me (in London),” he adds. “I didn’t expect that at all because I don’t really get recognised at all at home. We just have to continue to push the sport forward, hit great marks, do great things and show that as athletes we’re just as good as those playing the top sports in America, like baseball, football and basketball.
“We have to show that we deserve to be showcased just like them and I think, over time, we can get great recognition. It’ll be a collective effort and I think I’m doing my part in terms of trying to push the sport forward and build my profile.”
“I don’t like to set time goals because I think that, mentally, it limits you”
Being recognised at the world championships may have taken a little bit of getting used to, yet competing in his first global final simply felt like the next natural step after a college career which brought numerous NCAA titles, both indoors and out.
“It was a huge blessing to get that far and to compete on the world stage, but it wasn’t a shock or a surprise at all,” says Coleman. “I wasn’t that nervous, it was more a case of being excited to showcase my talent. I definitely felt like I belonged. I worked so hard, if not harder than anybody, to get to that point and I wanted to seize the opportunity.
“However, I will say that I don’t think there’s anybody who makes it to that point and doesn’t feel a little bit uncomfortable. I don’t want to call it nervous, it’s more a feeling of being really anxious. You have a huge opportunity
in front of you and, no matter how many times you’ve been in a race like that, you always feel the atmosphere and pressure of that moment.
“I think that’s what makes great moments happen, it’s what makes great athletes. You use it to go out there and perform to your best and that’s what I felt in that moment.”
That moment brought a silver medal as Coleman finished just behind world champion turned pantomime villain Justin Gatlin and just ahead of the legendary figure of Usain Bolt.
Many feel the young American is now the heir to the Jamaican’s crown and is capable of challenging the outdoor world records which the finest sprinter ever to grace a track has etched into the history books.
“I’m looking forward to what’s to come – competing with the other guys and stamping my name in the history books”
Those are big spikes to fill and it’s worth noting that Bolt was unofficially timed at 6.31 for 60m during his 9.58 100m in 2009. Coleman, however, insists his focus will not rest solely on what the clock reads.
“I don’t necessarily like to set time goals because I think that, mentally, limits you,” he says. “Your mental game is just as important as the physical and mentally, when you set a time goal, you simply put a limit on yourself. If you hit that time you’re satisfied but if you don’t then you might be disappointed, even though you might have won or had a good race.”
He adds: “It (the record) is in the back of everyone’s head but I just want to make sure that, when that special moment comes when you feel prepared to run your fastest, that I’m ready to do something special.”
The crowds which will pour into the Arena Birmingham could well be treated to something special. Ask Coleman for the identity of those he expects to threaten his chances of taking gold and he cites fellow American Ronnie Baker, a narrow second in 6.40 at the American trials, and China’s Su Bingtian as serious contenders.
He is also acutely aware of the strength of the current crop of British sprinters, having been part of the USA squad which finished second to the host nation as they so spectacularly took world championships gold in the 4x100m relay last summer.
“They are guys with a lot of talent and I think they are going to be right there ready to compete alongside me as the years go along,” adds Coleman. “I know Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake well from when we raced together in college and he’s going to be one to be reckoned with over the 100m and 200m. CJ Ujah has been doing it for a couple of years now, too, and I think it’s going to be a good challenge for us in America doing the 4x100m. They’ve got guys coming up with a lot of talent and I think we do as well.
“I will be a good rivalry over the next couple of years, racing against them. It will be exciting.”
Bolt’s retirement has opened the door on a new era in men’s sprinting and Coleman has undoubtedly been one of the first to step through into it.
“It’s really exciting to even have my name mentioned in that conversation about being able to be one of the top guys in the whole sport,” he says. “It’s an honour and I’m looking forward to what’s to come – competing with the other guys and stamping my name in the history books. I don’t even know how to describe that feeling of being talked about as one of the next guys to take over the throne – it’s pretty crazy!
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the years, it’s coming together and I’m reaping the rewards of that work, how I stay true to my craft, and I think it will pay off over the years.
“To go to London and come away with two silver medals lets me know that I have the skills and the capabilities to compete at that level against some of the top guys in the world. Now I’ve made a name for myself going forward.
“You want to be the best in the world, you want to have that feeling of being the fastest in the world, of crossing the line first in a major championships. I have the same goal as so many other people. I just need to stay on top of my game and make sure that, when the chance comes to go for a gold medal then I’ll be ready.”
Let’s watch what happens.
» Coleman explains why patience is a virtue when it comes to sprinting 60m – read it here