Michael Norman’s the finest high school sprinter in the land, perhaps ever, and that’s going to have to be enough for now.
Given the volume of track and field runners in America and the parade of future Olympians who have graced the prep venues of California, this is acceptable, right?
Let’s just begin with the Central Valley goldens alone, such as Bob Mathias (Tulare), Rafer Johnson (Kingsburg), Tommie Smith (Lemoore) and Randy Williams (Edison).
Should Norman not represent Team USA in the Olympic Games in August in Rio de Janeiro, we’re going to forgive him, OK?
He’s an 18-year-old senior from Vista Murrieta returning to the CIF State Track and Field Championships this weekend at Buchanan’s Veterans Memorial Stadium following an electrifying performance a year ago, will surely sweep the 200- and 400-meter events for the second consecutive year as only one has done before him, scald some ridiculous split in the Broncos’ 1,600 relay, then return to Riverside County to prepare for the U.S. Junior Nationals in two weeks at this same venue and the U.S. Trials in early July in Eugene.
And, yes, he’s long qualified for those Trials – specifically, when he torched state-record times of 20.30 in the 200 meters and 45.19 in the 400 a year ago.
He’s since lowered the 200 time to 20.23, which would have placed seventh at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The 45.19 in the 400 would have finished eighth.
And oh, by the way, he’s also clocked a 10.27 100 – No. 2 in state history.
It all represents a range of sprint skill unrivaled in U.S. annals.
But, hey, maybe Norman’s not quite fit for Rio.
Surely he’ll grace the 2020 Games in Tokyo after a four-year career at USC, which he chose over Louisiana State.
Grounded, humble and just one of the kids – really – anyone will tell you at Vista Murrieta, he’s not overly concerned with the Brazil gig in August.
“I’ll run to the best of my ability until then and not let it consume me,” he says by phone early this week. “If it’s not meant to happen, it doesn’t. Right now, my main concern is to get through the state meet and perform well. What happens after that I’ll take more as an experience.”
Strange deal, this Michael Norman development.
Generally, superstars are just that out of the womb.
Consider only three years ago as a 5-foot-8, 120-pound freshman.
“Just a scrawny little runner, a typical freshman,” coach Coley Candaele recounts. “He was a good runner, but nothing where you’re going, ‘Here’s the next great American or California sprinter.’ ”
Ah, but for mid-March of Norman’s sophomore season.
“He did a couple accelerations in practice,” Candaele says, “and I went, ‘What was that? What was that?’ Then he runs and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ ”
Three months later, at the state meet in Clovis, the Normans bagged a bunch of silver – senior Michelle in the triple jump (40-6) and little brother Michael in the 200 (20.92) and 400 (46.94).
And it was then that his competitive drive was launched.
“I was disappointed,” he says, not in his sister – who just completed her career at UC Irvine this month – but himself.
Imagine: Candaele actually refers to that double silver in state as an “adversity.”
Then it was game on for Norman, who now stands 6-1, 170.
“That’s what made Michael go,” the coach says. “His work ethic went up another level. He was not going to let that happen again.”
Norman this weekend will attempt to do what only one other has done before him in the meet’s 97-year history – sweep the 200 and 400 in consecutive years. Long Beach Poly’s Bryshon Nellum did so in 2006-07.
Elite performance in a 200/400 double – an unusual combination for sprinters who typically run the 100 and 200 – requires a blend of endurance, strength and speed.
Expect Norman, on one of his favorite two tracks (Cerritos College being the other), to deliver another extraordinary display of explosion, not emotion, under blistering weather conditions this weekend.
“He’s not a typical sprinter,” Candaele says. “He’s not arrogant; he doesn’t beat his chest to get psyched up.”
What defines Norman?
“Most important,” says Candaele, who just resigned as the school’s football coach, “he’s always ready for practice. I’ve never seen anybody, no matter what sport or talent, get ready for practice each and every day as he does. He can’t want for certain drills to happen.
“He knows there’s a means to an end and, to be good, he has to get things done.”
CIF STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Friday-Saturday at Buchanan’s Veterans Memorial Stadium
- Schedule: Friday, 4 p.m. field events, 6:15 p.m. track qualifiers; championships start Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
- Of note: Gates open 3 p.m. Friday, 3:30 p.m. Saturday. … Tickets are $10 general admission with children/students (ASB card)/seniors 65-plus $7 on Friday; $12, $8 on Saturday