Time to turn pro

Marvin Westwestwords


Logic prevailed. Tennessee’s track team has turned pro.

I suppose you have noticed that Christian Coleman was Tennessee’s track team. The Vols scored 20 points in the recent NCAA championships. Coleman scored all 20. He won the 100- and 200-meter races and set a collegiate record in the prelims.

Others in orange went all the way to Eugene, Ore., to be ornamental or to cheer or run, jump and throw for experience.

Correction: UT women scored two points. Coleman was not a factor.

Outrunning male sprinters is old hat for CC. Back in March, he was the bright and shining star in one of the most dominant track weekends in collegiate history. He won the indoor national titles in the 60 and 200. His times rank among the best all-time.

He is just the second in NCAA forever to win all four sprint titles in the same year. The other? Justin Gatlin of Tennessee.

There you have it: Gatlin has been where Coleman is. They are friends. Justin has emerged as a volunteer mentor. Coleman has said Gatlin has been a huge influence on his life.

Indeed, this voice of experience can offer sound advice regarding a professional career – things to do and not do. Gatlin endured a four-year ban after a positive steroid test but never really believed that he cheated.

Long before that, in 2002, Gatlin dominated NCAA sprints. He turned pro. He won the 100 gold medal at the Athens Olympics. He tied the then-world record.

Christian Coleman is not yet at that level. He isn’t supposed to beat Usain Bolt. But, when you are 21 and can run fast enough that your name appears in paragraphs with words like “best all-time” and “collegiate history,” there wasn’t much left to prove.

It was time to collect.

In theory, people go to college to learn how to earn a living and how to interact with others. Some acquire a bit of culture, read a few pages of Shakespeare, study the strata of rocks and build a list of friends and contacts.

Christian has figured it out. He arrived as a good guy and is approaching senior status in academics. He can finish his degree between races.

Chris Coleman is an interesting story. We first heard about him in 2007. As an 11-year-old at Tom Black Track, he won an age-group AAU national championship in the long jump.

He was an all-around athlete at Our Lady of Mercy school in suburban Atlanta. At 5-9 and 155, he was a wide receiver and defensive back. He thought his future was in football. One cousin was an All-Ivy League defensive back at Harvard. Another played at Colgate.

Smarts run in the family. Coleman’s dad is an administrator with Atlanta public schools. His mom has a doctorate. She teaches.

In the spring of his senior year, football faded. In the Georgia private school track championships, he won the 100, 200 and long jump and anchored a winning relay team. His times were state records. College coaches noticed. Somehow, the previous staff at Tennessee recruited him.

Chris was SEC indoor freshman of the year. He placed sixth in NCAA 60. He was not so fast in comparison at the NCAA outdoor championships.

He was 2016 NCAA indoor champ at 200 meters. He so badly wanted to win the 60. Alas, he finished third. He was runner-up in the NCAA 100 and 200 outdoors. He became an alternate on the Rio Olympics team.

Gatlin said Coleman’s 2016 accomplishments made him proud, that UT had not had such a performer since he was in school. This year was better.

“He’s run faster than any Tennessee Vol has ever run.”

Many engrossed in track careers have day jobs. Only a few get rich. Gatlin is thought to be a millionaire. According to Forbes, Bolt makes $21 million a year (running and endorsements). Legendary sprinter-jumper-author Carl Lewis is worth an estimated $20 million.

Let’s guess Coleman starts at $300,000 a year. It would seem the best is yet to come. Speed is wealth. CC picked the correct time to go.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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