Wallace Spearmon at Last Week's Olympic Media Summit
A Healthy, Rededicated Wallace Spearmon Ready for All-Comers in 2012
May 24, 2012
The first time Wallace Spearmon ran at the Olympic Trials as a 19-year old in 2004, he admits, "I had no idea what I was doing." One of his heroes, Justin Gatlin, was in the same first round heat of the 200. Spearmon ignored his coach's advice to run his own race, tried to beat Gatlin, and each round after that got progressively worse.
Wallace quickly figured things out, as the next year, not only did he make the US Worlds team at 200, he left Worlds with a silver medal as a 20 year old. A guy named Usain Bolt was also in that race. Bolt finished 8th.
Talent and Hard Work in 2012
Assuming Wallace makes the Olympic team in 2012, he'll have his hands full with Usain Bolt. Wallace has a couple of things going for him. For the first time ever he heads into an Olympic Trials healthy. Plus he has a new found dedication to the sport.
Make no mistake about it, Wallace Spearmon was born with natural talent. His dad, Wallace Spearmon Sr, was a Pan Am Games bronze medallist who ran 20.27. Spearmon Jr's silver medal as a 20 year-old is a testament to his talent.
Wallace used to get upset when people say he got by on his talent. That outlook has changed a bit this year thanks to a career defining injury last year. An achilles injury caused Wallace to miss most of the year and not qualify for the World Championships. Spearmon, the silver medallist in 2005, who slipped to bronze in 2007 and 2009, faced entering the Olympic year unhealthy and coming off the worst year of his professional career.
In order to right his career, Wallace decided changes were needed. He decided to switch coaches from Alleyne Francique, the two time World indoor 400m champion and assistant at Texas A&M, to Monte Stratton in Arlington, Texas, partly so he would have access to better medical facilities in the DFW area. In addition, facing the possible end of his career, Spearmon dedicated himself to all the things off the track, the rehab, the drills, necessary to stay healthy.
Now, the first thing Spearmon does when he wakes up, before he even has breakfast, is go into the "training room" in his home in Cedar Hill, Tx and start his rehab work. Spearmon says he doesn't get back from the track until 2:30-3:00 pm and that even after that he still does extra rehab work around the house.
With the longer working hours and emphasis on making sure he stays healthy, has come the realization that maybe he wasn't working as hard as he could in the past. "I used to train hard. I thought I trained hard. Right now my eyes are opened. Honestly, a lot of people told me 'You're just so naturally talented' and I used to get frustrated when they told me that because I felt like I worked extremely hard to get where I was. But now I kind of realize after I missed a whole season (last year) and I came back in the first race and ran 10.0 and came back in the 200 and ran 19.9, there is a lot of natural talent there, but now I'm putting hard work into the equation as well."
With the extra work, another thing has come, a healthy body. "This is the first time I've actually been healthy leading up to our Trials, so I really have no idea what I'm capable of," said Spearmon who said he was confident if the Trials were held now he'd make the team.
Hoping to be #1
Spearmon a Distance Runner at Heart?
2012 Has Started Great, But He Still Must Contend With Bolt
Spearmon's outdoor season in 2012 has started off tremendously well. First was a wind-aided 10.06 100m in March. Then came a 19.95 wind legal 200m thrashing of Jeremy Wariner in late March at an low-key track meet in Arlington, Tx. It was the fastest time ever run that early in the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
While the rest of the world may have been shocked by Wallace's time, he wasn't. He said, "I knew I was ready to run sub 20.00... I was just hoping the time would be wind legal."
Track and field may be a race against the clock, but it is also a race against competitors, and that means Spearmon is likely tasked with trying to beat Usain Bolt at the Olympics. Spearmon and Bolt are friends, both passionate about basketball, and both very fast. Nothing Bolt does will surprise Wallace. "He wants to run 9.4 this year and I don't put anything past that man."
When the topic of anyone fast come up in track and field, so does the topic of drugs. For the record, Spearmon thinks Bolt is clean, "Bolt and I are close friends and I always tell them (people who ask) 'Bolt is clean.' I just think he is (just) talented. He has all the age group records since he was 15... So I don't think why it would be impossible for him to run that fast (clean)."
An athlete who was dirty, Justin Gatlin, one of Spearmon's former heroes, is back from his four year drug suspension, and almost running better than ever. Gatlin, on his way to double gold in 2005, relegated Spearmon to silver at Spearmon's first Worlds in 2005.
Spearmon operates under the belief that Gatlin is now clean. "At the end of the day, he served his time and is back and is going about it the right way." When pressed whether Spearmon believed Gatlin's claim that he never intentionally doped, Spearmon said, "I never had that conversation with him, so I don't know. But if he said it I believe him. He was one of the guys I looked up to going through the ranks so if he said it I have no choice, but to believe him."
No Nerves for Spearmon
Beating Bolt and possibly Gatlin will be tough, but Wallace is no longer the naive 19 year old, trying to keep up with Gatlin in his heat. Now he is a 27 year old veteran with nerves of steel. "I'm way past nerves," he said. "A lot of people get nervous before races I actually don't any more. That stopped probably in 2006. I usually get nervous in practice where no one is watching. That's where you get better. Whenever I got into a track meet I feel like I'm ready."
On race day to get inspired, Spearmon likes to watch old race videos on youtube of some of the greats: Maurice Greene, Michael Johnson, Frankie Fredericks and even himself. Fredericks has 24 lifetime sub 20 200m clockings, Johnson has 23, and next on the list at 22 is Wallace Spearmon.
Fredericks and Johnson, have two things Wallace doesn't, an Olympic medal and a Gold medal from a global championships. At the 2008 Olympics, Spearmon originally finished with the bronze in the 200, but was disqualified for running on the inside of his lane.
On Friday in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Spearmon gets a shot at sub 200m clocking #23 as he runs his first European track race of 2012. Spearmon will also be targeting Usain Bolt's 19.83 meet record.
One thing that will definitely be on hold until the Olympics for Spearmon and presumable for Bolt as well is basketball. Bolt is a huge Boston Celtics fan, and Spearmon grew up in Arkansas with NBA stars Mike Conley Jr, Ronnie Brewer, and Joe Johnson. Spearmon claims he holds his own in pick-up games with his NBA stars saying his game is "decent". He all but guaranteed he could take Bolt in a game of basketball, but basketball is on the backburner because when pressed what might have caused his injury problems, Spearmon finally said too much pick up basketball in the offseason.
Maybe after London we can see Bolt and Spearmon in basketball game for charity. Until then, we'll have to be content to watch them battle at 200.
More Spearmon Before Ostrava
Talking About the 200 in Ostrava
Doing Drills With Usain Bolt