EUGENE, Oregon — Two days ago, after Universal Sports posted onto Twitter a shot of a skinny Usain Bolt racing at the IAAF world junior championships — before a home crowd in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2002 — he told his 3.4 million-plus followers, “Still the greatest moment of my life.” This from a guy who, of course, has gone on to win six Olympic individual and relay medals as well as eight world titles and who holds the world record in the 200 meters, 19.19 seconds, and the 100, 9.58.
For social media purposes this week, meanwhile, that wasn’t all. Bolt followed up on Instagram by proclaiming, “It’s been a journey and a half from world juniors to now,” adding the hashtags, “anything is possible,” and “keep believing.”
On Wednesday here at Hayward Field, Trayvon Bromell was expected to win the men’s 100 meters. He had set the world junior record earlier this year on the very same track. Instead, in one of those upsets that makes track and field eminently watchable, another American, Kendal Williams, won, proof that, as Bolt said, anything is possible.
Williams crossed in 10.21 seconds, Bromell in 10.28.
Yoshihide Kiryu of Japan took third, in 10.34
“I’ve been waiting all year for my time to shine,” Williams said later. “It finally came.”
The gold is the first for the United States at these world juniors.
It is also the first men’s 100-meter gold in the world juniors in 10 years, since Ivory Williams’ 10.29 in Grosseto, Italy. Over history, it made for the fourth time a U.S. male has won gold in the 100 at the world juniors.
The women’s 100 also produced a fascinating winner — Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, who crushed the field with an explosive start and a take-no-prisoners style that makes for great theater down the lanes. She won in 11.23.
Afterward, asked to explain her victory, she said, “I can’t let myself slack.”
Fascinatingly, there were no Jamaicans — men’s or women’s — in either the men’s or women’s 100 final.
The focus heading into the meet had been all about Bromell. He had even been one of the invited athletes at the IAAF pre-meet news conference, and understandably.
On this same Hayward track, at the NCAA championships in June, he ran the 100 in 9.97, the first junior to run under 10 seconds.
The thing is, it’s difficult to know whether junior performances are a predictor of much of anything.
At those 2002 juniors, Bolt won the 200, in 20.61. He didn’t run the 100. Here are your top three finishers in that 100: Darrel Brown and Marc Burns, both of Trinidad and Tobago, and American Willie Hordge.
Bolt was just 15 at that race, about a month shy of 16.
Bromell turned 19 two weeks ago. The grind of a long season was wearing on him. But at that news conference he tried to make like, not.
He said, “Going back to getting my maintenance done on my body, I feel like I can still run fast. I don’t feel like I’m going to run any slower. I feel like my heart won’t let me. So we shall see if history will be made again.”
Here is the thing about history and track and field. It can often turn on a combination of weather and fate. When they combine in your favor, it’s all good. When it’s not that way — that’s why they run the races.
For instance, in May, at the Big 12 championships in Lubbock, Texas, when Bromell ran a 9.77 for 100 meters, that was very, very fast.
Then again, that day he had the wind at his back. The weather, you know. The wind was measured at 4.2 meters per second, which is way, way more than the 2.0 allowed under the rules of track and field.
That race brought Bromell lots and lots of attention.
In fact, for entertainment purposes only, history buffs might want to note that Carl Lewis — whose fastest legal time was a 9.86, in Tokyo in 1991 — ran 9.78 with an even stronger 5.2 wind at his back in Indianapolis in 1988.
So Bromell, at 19, is already faster on a windy day than Carl Lewis.
This is why Bromell got — and is getting, especially from track geeks — lots of attention.
When he ran 9.97 at the NCAAs in June — the wind that day at his back was 1.8, legal but very close — he took four-hundredths of a second off the former world junior record, which he had jointly held with Trinidad's Brown.
American Jeff Demps and Japan’s Kiryu also ran 10.01 but their times were never ratified as world junior records.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, in May, Williams won the state titles in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, becoming just the third athlete in state history to win four straight in the 200 (one of whom was Houston McTear in the 1970s). Williams won the 100 in 10.33, the 200 in 20.96. But who noticed outside of a few locals and the coaches at Florida State, where he’s headed?
This week in Eugene, Bromell opened Tuesday with a 10.13. That was a tenth of a second better than anyone in the field, which was what most people here saw.
But not if you were paying close attention: Williams was next, in a personal-best 10.23.
Cejhae Greene of Antigua went 10.27. No one else was under 10.3.
On Wednesday morning, the rain — the weather again — came down hard. The sequence here: mid-day Tuesday in the sun, then semis and finals Wednesday evening on a soggy track.
“It it was a hot day, you probably would have seen three people go under 10 seconds, man,” Bromell would say later.
It was not hot. It was decidedly cool, sweatshirt weather, maybe more. A couple ladies were seen Wednesday evening eating popcorn under the Hayward stands wrapped in blankets. One volunteer, displaying awesome local knowledge for summer in Oregon, opted for a black down jacket. It was zipped up.
In the semifinal, Bromell again topped the field, now in 10.29, and in a still wind. He looked sluggish.
And the field crept closer, Levi Cadogan of Barbados in that same semifinal just two-hundredths back, Ojie Edoburun of Britain five-hundredths behind.
In his semi, Williams, ran an easy 10.49 to win.
In the final, Bromell actually got off to a great start, a reaction time of 0.121 off the gun, fastest in the field, Williams going 0.149.
But Bromell just didn’t have more, and by halfway down, it was clear Williams would take the race.
For Williams, that 10.21 was, again, a new personal best. Anything is possible. Keep believing.
“Execution was, I think, priority No. 2 behind mentally staying in the game,” Williams said later. “Not letting anything or anybody else mess with your mojo.”
He also said, “At the end of the day, I’m happy for Trayvon. He has accomplished a lot. He’s a humble kid. I like him. But at the end of the day, I still had to focus on what I had to do. I can’t run Trayvon Bromell’s race better than Trayvon Bromell can do. I had to go out there and run Kendall Williams’ race.”
Bromell said, “I seen the whole race when I came up. I seen Kendall right beside me. He had great knee lift. He was executing well. I was like, man, it’s his time to shine. I’ve had a great run this year. I’m just glad I got through the season healthy. It’s a blessing for him and I’m happy for him.”
He also said, and though these are the juniors these are words of wisdom from someone who is only 19, “You can’t run a fast race every time. You can’t PR every time.”