- Eric Adelson, ESPN The Magazine
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SACRAMENTO -- You're probably thinking, "Where did this Shawn Crawford guy come from?
The better question is: "Where is he going?"
On the last day of Olympic trials, Crawford completed his transformation from "Dude who raced a giraffe and a zebra on 'Man vs. Beast'" to "Gold-medal hopeful in both Olympic sprints." And "Cheetah Man" is just getting started. Literally.
Crawford ran a trials-best 19.99 in the 200 meter dash -- into the wind -- after coming within 0.02 of Maurice Greene in the 100-meter qualifier. And he turned the double despite a horrendous start technique.
"He's not good in the blocks at all," coach Trevor Graham said. "Now he realizes he has to start to be an Olympic champion."
Crawford's problem is that he hears the gun and instinctively picks his back foot up. That costs him precious time. Once he gets into a stride, he's tough to beat.
"I think he can run for a world record," Graham said. "I really do."
Keep in mind, Crawford had never been rigorously coached at all before last November, when he hooked up with Graham. Just this year, he's learned to stay down out of the blocks, transition to a more straight-up posture at 30 meters and accelerate into a drive phase at 50 meters. A year ago, Crawford basically shot straight up out of the blocks and ran like a kid after an ice cream truck. That's why he excelled at the 200 but had no shot in the 100.
So Graham will spend the coming days and weeks training Crawford to start better. And if it works?
"I think he can run 9.7, 9.8," Graham said. Tim Montgomery's controversial world record stands at 9.78.
Funny thing is, Crawford and Graham nearly never worked together at all. Graham turned Crawford down four times before finally saying yes late last year. Graham didn't like Crawford's undisciplined habits, which included false starting on purpose and racing in a Halloween mask. Graham finally relented when Crawford told him he was going to settle down and get married.
The marriage didn't last. "But," Graham said, "we're still together."
Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.
With less than a year of coaching, Shawn Crawford already is challenging. Imagine if he learns how to properly leave the blocks.