Michael Norman, a former state champion at Vista Murrieta High School and former national champion at the University of Southern California, shocked the track and field world recently when he posted a time of 9.86 seconds in a 100-meter race. Before the coronavirus outbreak postponed the 2020 Olympics, July 24, 2020, was supposed to begin the opening week of the Tokyo Games, instead Norman excelled at a small meet in Texas where he ran a wind-legal 9.86 seconds. Last week’s race time is a significant improvement on his 10.27 personal best that he set as a high schooler in 2016, which is the last time Norman raced over 100-meter. He is the first person in history to break 9.90 seconds in the 100-meter and 44.00 in the 400-meter.
Norman is a quarter-mile runner, but no quarter-miler has ever displayed that kind of high-end speed. The reigning Olympic champion in the 400, Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa, has a personal best of 9.94 in the 100. Michael Johnson, who held the 400-meter world record until it was broken by Van Niekerk, never broke 10 seconds. The former Vista Murrieta standout joined Van Niekerk as the only athletes to run under 10 seconds in the 100-meter, 20 seconds in the 200-meter and 44 seconds in the 400-meter.
The big difference between Norman, the 2018 NCAA champion for University of Southern California, and the other names in that paragraph is hardware. Van Niekerk, Johnson and even Usain Bolt have all won multiple world and/or Olympic titles. Norman has never even won a U.S. title, let alone a global medal. He did run the fastest indoor time ever for 400 meters in 2018, but it was not officially ratified as a world record. However, Norman is still only 22 years old; Johnson and van Niekerk did not win their first global outdoor titles until age 23. Bolt, ever the exception, won his first at 21. Norman won the Diamond League 400-meter title in 2019 but did not appear to be 100% at Worlds and was eliminated in the semifinals.
Before even considering Norman’s other personal bests, it is important to remember 9.86 is pretty fast on its own. It is the fastest time in the world in 2020, and in 2019 only one man ran faster, world champ Christian Coleman (9.76), who is currently provisionally suspended from the sport for whereabouts failures.
In the 100-meter, Norman is now tied for eighth on the all-time U.S. list and 17th on the all-time world list with a couple of well-known guys: Noah Lyles and two-time Olympic 100-meter champ, Carl Lewis.
All-time US men’s 100m list
- 9.69 – Tyson Gay – Shanghai – 2009
- 9.74 – Justin Gatlin – Doha – 2015
- 9.76 – Christian Coleman – Doha – 2019
- 9.79 – Maurice Greene – Athens – 1999
- 9.84 – Trayvon Bromell – Eugene – 2015
- 9.85 – Leroy Burrell – Lausanne – 1994
- 9.85 – Michael Rodgers – Eugene – 2011
- 9.86 – Michael Norman – Fort Worth – 2020
- 9.86 – Noah Lyles – Shanghai – 2019
What made Norman’s performance all the more astounding are the conditions under which he has had to train in recent months. Norman, who turned professional after his sophomore season in college, continues to train under University of Southern California’s coaches. When the university shut down because of the pandemic, its track and weight room did too.
Norman and his training group, which includes roommate and 400-meter hurdler Rai Benjamin, former University of Southern California star Kendall Ellis and Candace Hill, had to come up with new ideas. The task of finding training sites became the responsibility of Trojans assistant coach Quincy Watts, who won a gold medal in the 400-meter at the 1992 Olympics. The athletes trained on soccer fields, dirt paths that border the golf course at Griffith Park, and they worked out on residential streets in Culver City. Maybe, just maybe they are on to something.
JP Raineri can be reached by email at email@example.com.