Xavier Carter the X-man storms to glory - IAAF Magazine
Monday 5 February 2007
20-year-old Xavier Carter stunned the world of track and field when he sprinted to a superb 19.63 in what was only his second professional race! The American sprinter has been rocketed to second in the all-time 200m World lists in an event which hadn’t been so thrilling since the days of Michael Johnson a decade ago.
By Bob Ramsak
One would be hard-pressed to find an athlete who made as enormous and nearly instantaneous a splash in the sport in recent years than did Xavier Carter in 2006. Barely a month after producing the best showing at an NCAA Championship since the days of the legendary Jesse Owens, the 20-year-old American captured the imagination of the athletics world with his dazzling 19.63 dash in Lausanne, a performance second only to Michael Johnson’s seemingly insurmountable 19.32 run into immortality at the 1996 Olympic Games a decade ago.
Suddenly, a record that seemed untouchable for perhaps another decade - or even more - seemed slightly less out of reach, thanks to the breakout performance of a young sprinter whose name was being mentioned in the same breath with Owens and Johnson. Throw in a nickname - ‘X-Man’ - with wide cross over appeal, and you have the makings of a true international sporting star.
Yet Carter has taken the attention in stride, preferring humility over the spotlight, while at the same time respecting those whose memories he’s rekindled.
“It’s an honour to be mentioned with those guys,” he says. “But I’m not going to put any pressure on myself. I just want to get faster, and continue to improve.”
Underscoring his modesty, he describes his first professional campaign, one in which he turned the 200 metres into a marquee event, as “A good rookie season.” One has to wonder what his lofty definition of “greatness” might be.
The story of the young man who would later become the “X-Man” began in his early teens in Melbourne, Florida, an Atlantic coast city of about 70,000 near Orlando. He took up the sport somewhat seriously as a 13-year-old, when, he says, he first began “running fast to win.” His initial push came at the behest of his father, Ken, as a way to become faster and more fit for his main sporting loves: American football, basketball and baseball.
“I was one of the slowest guys at first,” he says of his early days as a high schooler. “I really wasn’t interested in track. You could see there was talent there but I was kind of a lazy kid and just wanted to play football. I would lose. Then after a couple of years I thought ‘If I’m going to be in it, why not win?’ So I began to work and became one of the quickest in the state.”
More accurately, one of the quickest all-around US high schoolers ever. By 2003 he had already produced bests of 10.38, 20.69 and 45.88, and the following year, improved to 45.44 in the long dash.
By the end of his high school career, he won a total of nine Florida state titles, and remains the only athlete to win state crowns in the 100m, 200m and 400m in back-to-back years, in 2003 and 2004. In his final year, he set a national indoor record in the 200m, clocking 20.69 to become the first high school athlete to break the 21 second barrier indoors. In 2003, he received virtually every national honour available to him, a feat he repeated in 2004. The following autumn he entered Louisiana State University as one of the most coveted recruits in the country, setting the stage for his meteoric rise to the top of the sprinting world.
At LSU, he immediately picked up where he left off. As a freshman, he improved his 200m personal best to 20.02 at the NCAA Mideast Regionals in late May, won the Southeast Conference title in 20.16 and finished a close runner-up at the NCAA Championships in early June, clocking 20.08. Later that month in his first national championship appearance, he reached the final of the 200m where he finished ninth to end the season ranked No. 6 in the world by Track & Field News, and fourth best among Americans.
His 2006 campaign began with a 45.28 dash to take the NCAA indoor title, a day after his runner-up finish in the 200m, where he clocked 20.30, both indoor career bests. Outdoors he defended his SEC title in the 200m, nabbed the 400m title as well, and, setting aside temporarily the half-lap, took a difficult 100/400 double at the NCAA Mideast Regional. He arrived in Sacramento for the NCAA Championships with high expectations, and by any measure, didn’t disappoint when the feats of Owens were remembered 70 years later.
At both the 1935 and 1936 collegiate championships, Owens won the 100m and 220 yard dashes, the 220 yard Hurdles and the Long Jump. In two days in the Californian capital, Carter joined the illustrious star of the 1936 Olympic Games as another four-time winner. He began on Friday afternoon, where he ran the second leg on LSU’s victorious 4x100 relay. On Saturday, he won the 100 metres with a personal best 10.09, and came back a half hour later to beat a world class field in the 400m, clocking 44.53, also a personal best, and at the time, the year’s world fastest performance. “This one was tough,” he understated. By comparison, his fourth win almost anti-climactic. With a 15-metre lead when he was given the baton, his relaxed anchor leg was but a chore.
Most notable was his unusual sprint double, the first of its kind, and one previously thought to be virtually impossible at that level. That weekend, an undeniable star was born.
But throughout his first two collegiate seasons, American football played a huge role in the background. A talented player with quickness that was readily apparent, he was a regular fixture as a receiveer on the LSU football squad, but shortly after his nearly unparalleled NCAA success, Carter made a decision that brought immense joy to the athletics world: he would put football on the backburner and devote his full attention to the track. For now.
“I want to keep my options open,” he said shortly after his decision in late June. “But the Olympics are a dream of mine, and I want to focus on that until 2008.”
"After what I accomplished at the NCAA meet I felt there was nothing more that I could do at the college level,” Carter added. “It also showed me that I have a good chance to achieve my dream of being an Olympic champion. So I decided to focus on that dream without the distractions of football or college track.”
Carter decided against competing at the US championships, and took a month off from competition after the NCAAs, and did little but rest for a week before resuming with some light training. But still riding high on momentum, he decided to continue his season, and didn’t shy away from any of the sport’s biggest and most dominant stars. He made his professional debut in Luzern on 6 July, where he won the 100m in a near-PB 10.11. Obviously still in prime form, he said he was expecting a PB in his next race, the 200m in Lausanne, his first half-lap effort since May. But when the clock eventually flashed 19.63, Carter, who ran blind in the outside lane, was shocked.
“I wasn’t sure what kind of time I’d be able to run, but I knew it would be a good time because I’d been training for the 400m,” he said later. “I knew I’d run a PR. But it was a shock.” He added that he didn’t immediately realize the gravity of his achievement.
“No, I didn’t know it at the time. I realized it afterwards. Being so young, I didn’t really know that it was the second fastest ever.”
Looking back, he also realizes that it was hardly the perfect race.
“I didn’t get out with the pack like I should have. I ran a much different race than I should have.” Not surprisingly, he lists that achievement, where he beat back the challenges of Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt, as his season highlight.
Rising to the second fastest ever at just 20 years of age would be a difficult act to top, and in the end it was, but that didn’t prevent Carter from trying.
A few days after his Lausanne stunner, his face-off against Olympic 400 metre champion Jeremy Wariner at Rome’s Golden Gala captured headlines around the continent and captivated the attention of athletics fans around the globe. The pre-race build-up was intense, bristling with excitement, with many openly wondering if Wariner’s dominance over the full lap could finally be put to the test.
Both sprinters were excited by the prospect as well, perhaps Wariner more so, who again dominated the race en route to his world leading 43.62 performance. Carter struggled in the waning stages, but still held on admirably to finish second in 44.76.
He continued his campaign with runner-up finishes in London and Brussels, clocking 19.98 and 19.97, each time finishing second to Tyson Gay, before bringing an end to a season that was initially supposed to conclude more than two months earlier.
No, not at all a bad rookie season, one which left him and most others eagerly looking ahead to the fruitful prospects that 2007 may bear.
Besides adjusting to trans-Atlantic travel, Carter said there was one main lesson he learned in his first professional season.
“To just stay focused, and not to worry about what others are doing and saying,” he said. “And that was easy for me to do.”
His focus now is set solely on 2007, where he among a quartet of top stars who are looking to make the half-lap among the sport’s marquee events.
“In my eyes the future’s in our hands,” he says, referring to Spearmon, Gay and Bolt, Jamaica’s World junior record holder. “We’re always going to have good competition. When Michael Johnson was running, there were maybe two guys out there. But now there’s at least three or four dominant runners. And everyone’s going to stay focused.”
His competitive interest remains on the 200m, but as he’s fond of saying, he wants to keep his options open.
“The 200m is my favourite event, but I do see myself as a 200m and 400m runner. I’m looking to do both.”
His level over both distances will almost certainly benefit from his current situation, in which football no longer plays a role.
“I’m working on my base training right now. When I was playing football, I never really had that base training before. My freshman year, I came out of football and began the season first running 60s, the 100m, and then the 200m. Last year I started by running the 400m and building my shape from there. Now I’ll have the base.”
Carter said it’s too soon to say whether he’ll contest the 200/400 double at next summer’s US championships where the team for the World Championships will be decided. And he said that he’d rather not put any time goals on the chalkboard before the season.
“With me I don’t want to put a time out there. I’d rather just take it as it comes. I just want to start, and then work to better that time.”
In the meantime, he’s a full-time student of kinesiology, out to fulfill the promise he made to his parents that he would complete his university education. Juggling his full-time job as an athlete with the rigours of the classroom isn’t a situation that is cramping his style. Right now, he said, perhaps referring to both his educational and professional goals, “Everything’s going really smooth.”
Published in 2006 Yearbook