Shawn Crawford of the US celebrates clocking 9.89 in the 100m quarter finals (© Getty Images)
For nearly thirty minutes after the conclusion of the 200 metres at the Golden Spike Super Grand Prix meeting in Ostrava early last June, Shawn Crawford laid motionless in the athletes’ post-race area, at first catching his breath from his 20.35 runner-up finish, then later, with his head propped against a bag, just staring at the sky.
Perhaps he was genuinely tired or maybe disappointed with his narrow defeat to training partner Justin Gatlin, who edged him by four one-hundredths of a second. Or, he may have simply taken advantage of an opportunity for a brief respite before plunging headlong into the most remarkable season of his career.
The most dangerous sprinting opponent
Two-and-a-half months later, the 26-year-old South Carolina native displayed the devastating potential he had nurtured since setting the national indoor record in 2000 with his 19.79 dash to Olympic gold in Athens, one of the most dominating performances in Olympic history. And between those two performances, the self-proclaimed “Cheetah man” established himself as one of the most dangerous sprinting opponents in the world.
World Indoor title and then sub-20 & sub-10
Since first capturing national attention after his 2000 indoor and outdoor 200 metre NCAA titles, Crawford was widely perceived as the next great half lap threat. That was an assertion he would provide ample evidence for the following year, ending the 2001 season with a World Indoor title in the long dash, and capping the outdoor season with a bronze medal at Edmonton’s edition of the World Championships.
In 2002, he led the world with an early season 19.85, but, displaying his all-around sprint potential, also dipped under 10 seconds for the first time in the 100 after a 9.95 win in Osaka.
Disappointing 2003 due to lack of consistency
But an admitted lack of focus, coupled with inconsistencies in his self-coached approach to training left him somewhat disappointed last year, which eventually led to his move to Raleigh, North Carolina to train with Trevor Graham. It was a regimented approach that would take some getting used to, but the collaboration would reap enormous dividends.
“It's a consistent program, and it's been a long time since I've been part of a consistent program or worked out consistently,” Crawford said last summer, just prior to the Olympics. “He's directed everything from the start line to the finish line, straight down the line, instead of me being all over the place. He’s pretty tough, kind of a drill sergeant, but real calm,” Crawford said, adding a vivid aside, “There have been a couple of times on the track when I’ve chucked up my breakfast working out.”
Back in focus
With his new training situation to his liking, he bounced back immediately in 2004, at first making a strong impact in the short sprint. Capping his indoor season with a silver medal in the 60 metres at the World Indoor championships, he followed up a little more than two months later with a wind-aided pair of quick dashes - 9.86 and 9.90 - in Doha.
At Eugene’s Prefontaine Classic in mid-June, he beat a solid field with a 9.88 PB, a performance that would pace the world for much of the season. Yet even that didn’t prepare the athletics world for his solid eight race series at the U.S. Olympic trials, where he, along with Gatlin, would earn their tickets to Athens in both dashes. A 9.93 third place finish was followed by a first round 19.88 in the 200, before his eventual 19.99 win. He landed in Athens as the world’s fastest in both dashes, and an overwhelming favourite for gold in the 200.
Bounced straight back from 100m defeat to 200m gold
But in Athens, it was Gatlin that would claim the title of World’s Fastest Man, while Crawford wound up fourth in 9.89, a performance that would have won all but two previous Olympic titles. But Crawford didn’t dwell on the race.
“I was very astounded that [Gatlin] had won, but once that was done I pushed the 100 metre dash to the side and refocused myself for the 200m dash. I didn’t bring any animosity or, you know, anger, or hunger from finishing fourth in the 100 over to the 200. I just stayed focused. I knew what my purpose was when I came here,” he said, which was to double in the sprints. “I’m just happy to capture the gold in the 200.”
“Capture” doesn’t quite do justice to his performance in the 200, where his 19.79, another PB, topped Bernard Williams by a stunning 22 one-hundredths of a second, a winning margin second in recent history only to Michael Johnson’s legendary world record run in Atlanta eight years earlier.
“A once in a lifetime thing”
With a protest causing a nearly ten-minute long delay prior to race, the final also provided a firm test of his focus, a test he passed brilliantly.
“Justin and I, we were forewarned by our coach that a situation like that might occur. So once we went out there, we expected that the crowd would have a little disruption before the race. I was just excited to be part of an elite field at the 2004 Olympic Games.”
He continued: “It’s a once in a lifetime thing. I was rejoicing in my head, waiting for the race to start and go out there and put on a performance. We were very prepared for that and we remained poised and focused. I just waited for the gun to go off and have a clean start and stay focused and cross the line. And,” he added, “mission accomplished.”
Sub-19 still the goal
With the Olympics behind him, he still has other missions in mind. Regularly reminded of his previously stated goal, to break the 19-second barrier, Crawford refuses to make any retractions.
“I just want to take the human body to the limit, to its full potential,” he said. “I just want to retrieve all the potential out of myself and put on a good performance so everyone who’s watching can see that humans can do some phenomenal things.”
Early last year, he decided to test his abilities against non-humans, racing a giraffe and a zebra on a television show. He beat the giraffe, but was outdistanced by the zebra. But the way he describes it now, he seems ready for a rematch.
“I think I could have beat him the first time I raced him,” he said after his Olympic win, seemingly in a half-joking manner. “They had me out there for ten hours, and it was cold,” he said. “I think I could have beaten him then. I definitely could beat him now.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF