Wallace Spearmon, photo by PhotoRun.net
Wallace Spearmon is a sprinter who has been around a long time, and who has been highly successful. I remember watching him race for over a decade. I remember him racing well in Helsinki in 2005, and his last major race in Beijing.
Wallace is a class act. His return to Beijing, and his fine racing, put him in the medal hunt.
David Hunter wrote this piece on the former Razorback. David will be joining me in covering the World Championships next week in Beijing!
The Long Sprinter’s Long Way Back
Furlong Veteran Wallace Spearmon Seeks Beijing Fulfillment
August 9th, 2015
Wallace Spearmon has been – and continues to be – an impressive and rangy sprinter who has been quietly building a tremendous dash resume. Although he never seems to capture center stage, the former Arkansas Razorback has been at or near the forefront of world class sprinting for more than a decade. A 3-time NCAA champion at 200m, Spearmon has a box full of multi-colored medals from global championships: a gold from the 2007 world championship 4×100 relay, a silver from the 2005 world championship 200m, and two 200m bronze medals from the 2007 and 2009 world championships. Oh, and he has 4 gold medals from Continental Cup competitions.
Spearmon’s career also features impressive marks and an element of longevity not usually associated with world class sprinting. His 19.65 clocking in the 200m places him #7 on the all-time world list. Only Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay, Walter Dix, and Xavier Carter have sprinted a half lap faster than the 30-year old furlong veteran. Nearly a decade ago, Spearmon posted a world best indoor time of 31.88 over 300 meters. And over his career to date, Spearmon has posted 24 sub-20 second 200 meter clockings, tying him with the legendary Frankie Fredericks atop the all-time world list.
Perhaps the only notable gap in his impressive record is the absence of an Olympic medal – a void that seems to fuel his continued drive to compete. In 2008 he was oh-so-close. After hastily treating injuries a month before the Beijing Games, Spearmon battled and advanced through the rounds. In the 200m final, Spearmon finished in the bronze medal position, only to be subsequently disqualified for a lane violation. “The whole medical staff knows and most of the USA team knows, but in ’08 I had a fractured bone in my knee and torn cartilage,” Spearmon reveals. “Honestly, for about a month before the race, I hadn’t even trained. They flew the alternate over because they didn’t think I would be able be run. Probably about two weeks before the race, the IOC cleared me for a cortisone shot in my knee and they drained my knee. That was a strenuous process,” the sprinter soberly explains. “The 2008 Olympics was supposed to be a success story for me. But it turned out to be a nightmare. Bolt ran really fast [19.30 WR] in that race. It was just a competitive race. I came off the turn probably dead last. I’ve had some bad turns, but that probably was one of the worst. It probably showed my fitness right then. That race wasn’t for me; it was for everyone who helped me. I really felt like I let them down.”
The disappointed sprinter knew what he had to do. “Initially the 2008 Olympics kinda broke me a little bit,” Spearmon confesses. “Honestly, that was probably one of the biggest disappointments I have ever experienced in my life.” But the passage of time – life’s cure for disappointment – healed that deep wound. “Honestly, I am so stubborn and competitive. I hate losing – I really do hate losing. At that point, I was so hungry. I couldn’t accept failure or defeat. One of my coaches told me, ‘To lose is not to fail. To quit trying is failure.'” he explains. “At that point, it’s just getting back on that horse and starting to ride again . I had to get back up and start training again. I had surgery 3-4 weeks later. I ended up moving to College Station to train. Every day, every day, Alain Francique would train us. He really knew how to motivate me.”
Concentrated effort replaced disappointment as Spearmon turned his attention to the 2012 Olympic Games. “I took it very seriously. I was training with Darvis “Doc” Patton and others. If you know me, I’m not really big in the weight room. But that year, I lived there. 9 to 5 every day, I was doing something trying to get better,” reveals Spearmon. “Normally, I am a big off-the-track guy. I like to go play basketball. I like to go play flag football, I like to go play softball. That year, I had Doc who was kinda like my big brother and he kinda cut all of that stuff short. So my main focus was just track. It almost drove me crazy because I wasn’t used to just doing one thing. But that was my focus.” Undistracted attention to his craft was rewarded. “It paid off,’ declares Spearmon. “I won the Olympic Trials [in the 200m]”.
Wallace Spearmon arrived in London ready to compete. And while he ran well, he could not prevent the Jamaican 200m sweep as Bolt, Blake, and Warren Weir went 1-2-3. “In the Olympic 200m final, I got 4th place. That was unfortunate. My 19.90 was the fastest 4th place time in Olympic 200 meter history,” laments Spearmon. “At the end of the day, 4th place isn’t that bad. It was definitely not what I aimed for. I would’ve loved to be top three.” Spearmon details how he just missed the podium. “That was the first time, I physically saw someone break. Normally, if I see someone’s stride pattern break, or I see a hitch in their stride, or there is just any kind of flaw, I usually can run them down. But I saw him [Weir] break at about 180, and I couldn’t go get him. I was very disappointed. And if you go back and watch the race, you’ll see him turn and look for me and he just willed himself to the line [in 19.84]. And I couldn’t catch him.”
Since London, Spearmon has worked to keep his chin up and his focus intact. Although he missed the 2013 world championship team, the sprint veteran posted a 20.13 which garnered him a 10th place world ranking and #3 USA ranking in the 200m. 2014 – the non-global championship year – was an abbreviated outing for Spearmon as he was forced to deal with a complicated injury situation that required surgery last August. “I had three tendons that came off the bone. So I had to get those reattached,” he explains. Coming back cautiously, Spearmon could not train with vigor until late winter of 2015. “I was taking it slow – just trying to get back into the flow of things.” His first big-time comeback test was this spring’s Penn Relays. “That was probably one of the most nervous races I’ve had in my life – even in the Olympics. I’m usually confident because I know I’ve put in the work. At that point [at Penn] I had no idea what was going to happen,” offered Spearmon who ran a very solid anchor leg on Team USA’s winning 4×200 relay. “I ran really decent there.” Then it was off to the Bahamas and the World Relay Championships. “I ran the anchor leg again [on the 4×200 team]. I split 19.9. All the relays I ran, I ran hard.”
At this year’s outdoor national championships, Spearmon progressed nicely through 200m rounds to gain the final. In the concluding race, he was lagging behind off the curve – so what else is new? – but then threw down the fastest reported closing 100m [in 9.4] to claw his way to third and make yet another world championship team. Since then, the long sprint specialist has been honing his craft. At the Pan Am Games, he ran the second “speed” leg of the USA’s gold-medal winning 4×100 relay team. And while he missed the podium in the Pan Am 200m final where he finished 5th, Spearmon ran 20.03 in the semi-final round – his fastest 200 meter clocking in three years. Finally healthy and rounding into race shape, this crafty veteran – who is currently tied #10th on
the 200m world list – should be a favorite to make the Beijing final and position himself to capture yet another global medal.
Goals inspire and drive athletes. And while that missing Olympic medal is a primary motivating force in his continuing sprint career, the Diamond League’s first Diamond Trophy winner at 200 meters – back in 2010 – has another, less obvious inspirational goal that pushes him onward. “By all means, everyone’s goal is to medal in the Olympics and be a legend,” Spearmon suggests. “But one of my goals is to run sub-45 in the 400m,” explains the Arkansas sprinter in outlining his goal to complete a sort of Sprint Triple Crown: sub-10 for 100m, sub-20 for 200m, and sub-45 for 400m. ” I’ve already run sub-20 [multiple times] in the 200m and I’ve already run sub-10 [9.96] in the 100m. All I need is that sub-45 400 meter clocking,” cites Spearmon whose 400m PR is 45.22. “The only other person to do that is Tyson Gay [9.69/19.58/44.89]. So I want to join that club. Michael Johnson hasn’t done it [lacks the 100m mark/19.32/43.18]. Usain Bolt hasn’t done it [9.58/19.19/lacks the 400m mark]. Xavier Carter ran 10.00 / 19.63 / 44.53. He was close, but he didn’t do it either.” After a pause he adds, “Think about that.”
At age 30, the veteran sprinter knows that his window of opportunity to perform at the highest level is starting to close. But he is also invigorated in knowing that current world class dash men who are his senior are proving that even more mature athletes can still sprint. “Justin Gatlin is one of my mentors and I really look up to him,” notes Spearmon about the 32 year old Gatlin who has been the world’s top sprinter the past two seasons. “But if you want to look at somebody who is old and running fast, I look at Kim Collins. Look at that guy!,” exclaims Spearmon with enthusiasm. “I know Justin is running really fast and he is oldish. But Kim Collins – no offense to him; I love him to death – he’s old! And he’s still rolling! What is he? 37, 38? [actually 39] And he just ran sub-10 again this year? That guy’s nuts! That’s Father Time right there!” And with a laugh he concludes, “He’d probably kick my butt for saying that.”
Wallace Spearmon hesitates when asked how he would like to be remembered. “Honestly, I’m not sure. Most of the sprinters these days run for respect. I have been in the sport long enough, I know most sprinters aren’t really remembered after 3 or 4 years after they stop running. I guess I would just like to be remembered and not just one of those guys who just fades away into the shadows.” After a momentary pause, he continues. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who needs to be reminded of everything I’ve done every time I go somewhere. But I would like to maybe go to a high school track meet and some kid might say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Wallace Spearmon.'” After Spearmon’s career as an elite athlete is concluded, there may be an occasion when the multiple-time global medalist may feel the sting of non-recognition by an unknowing, yet-unborn high schooler who is not familiar with either his name or his considerable accomplishments on the track. But know this: Wallace Spearmon will be remembered. Quite simply, he will be remembered as one of the most versatile and accomplished long sprinters of all time.
Dave Hunter, who ran his marathon P.R. of 2:31:40 on the highly revered Boston Marathon course back in the Paleozoic era, is a track and field announcer, broadcaster, and journalist. To find out more about Dave, please visit www.trackandfieldhunter.com
Leave a Reply