June 14, 2013
FORT WORTH – Charles Silmon’s runs are meant to be seen. He is an athlete, a top athlete, but he is also a performer and an entertainer at the same time. His running style is smooth and relaxed when in full flow. Though he is tired after a race, he never looks tired when running. He does not get off the blocks as much as he explodes out of them. His starts make a unique sound out of the blocks that help indicate that someone special is on the track ready to make a statement.
That statement was made a week ago today at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. where Silmon capped off an incredible outdoor season with a victory in the men’s 100-meter dash final. It was the fastest final in NCAA history, Silmon’s wind-aided 9.89 seconds tying the all-conditions NCAA Championships record. Every other spot below him from second to eighth set the all-conditions record for fastest finishing time by position. For the first time, three men went under 10 seconds in an NCAA 100-meter dash.
However, the process to this moment did not come easily. This has been a journey across years that have come at all points of the United States and the world. Even if you narrow the scope to just 2013 there are many twists and turns, but more often than not they have finished with Silmon on top.
The indoor season is a challenge due to its small window. With the season starting for TCU in mid-January and ending on the second day of March, there is not much time to get a mark among the top-16 to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships. Silmon took care of that in the prelims of the men’s 60-meter dash at the Big 12 Championships, posting the top qualifying mark in 6.65 seconds.
The next day in the final, Silmon was posed a challenge by Ian Warner of Iowa State. The brother of three-time TCU All-American and 2012 Olympian Justyn Warner, the Cyclones’ younger Warner challenged Silmon throughout the entire race, but the Horned Frogs senior was able to earn his first Big 12 title in 6.66 seconds and had his ticket to the NCAA Indoor Championships sealed.
The prelims session of the 60-meter dash at the indoor championships could only be described as chaotic. Silmon was in the second heat, and was a spectator to the first surprise of the meet when No. 1 seed Marvin Bracy of Florida State was disqualified for a false start.
With that seed already planted, the second heat was going to be tense. However, it was tough to predict how tense it would become. The FSU Seminoles caught another tough break when the heat was recalled and Dentarius Locke was dismissed. After that a second recall was asked for, but this time everyone already in the field was allowed to stay.
When there is a recall, Silmon is always the farthest down the track. Part of that is due to the explosiveness of his start, some of that is due to his talent and some of that is just more of an opportunity to collect himself and put all that energy back together. The recall can be as draining as a full race. All that energy that has been kept in since the second they wake up has had to be held in for the moment when a race begins. Then you have to get all that energy back and do it all over again in the space of one or two minutes.
What happened next was rather impressive considering the circumstances. Silmon was able to establish a good tempo and execute a good race strategy to finish the heat in first in a career-best mark of 6.60 seconds. The anticipation for the final was immense.
The final of a sprint event is always anticipated. The stadiums and complexes where track events are run always get quieter when a race begins. However, when the shortest sprint of all is on the track, whether that be the 60 meters indoors or the 100 meters outside, one can hear a pin drop.
The group lined up, got into the blocks and awaited the gun. The start happened but for the fourth time in the 60-meter dash on the weekend the field was recalled. The recall saw the end of Virginia Tech’s Darrell Wesh’s evening.
The second start was a clean one not just for the field, but also for Silmon. It was going to be a three-horse race and that was how it looked at the start as Silmon was joined by D’Angelo Cherry of Mississippi State and Marcus Rowland of Auburn as getting the strongest starts. However, in such a short race the slightest mismanaged move can be costly. In this case, Silmon looked up just a little too early and allowed for Cherry to take the win and Rowland to finish second. Silmon was still able to hang on for third place, one of the highest men’s sprint finishes in TCU’s history. The stage was set for Silmon to make a big return during the outdoor season.
The first big run of Silmon’s outdoor season would come at the Texas Relays, as the Frog was chosen for the invitational 100-meter dash. He was the only collegian to be extended an invitation, a big honor at a meet that featured most of the best teams in the NCAA. The event would take place during the busy Saturday session. The fans come out in droves, looking for the chance to see the best the professional, collegiate and Texas high school fields have to offer.
This was no ordinary invitational 100-meter dash, it was loaded with speed. Silmon was going to be joined by an incredibly fast field for so early in the outdoor season with three past U.S. Olympians toeing the line with Silmon. Combined with all of that, the runners would also have the wind at their backs. When the gun went off, Silmon was able to keep pace for most of the race. Though the three U.S. Olympians were able to pull away, Silmon had made a statement. The scoreboard showed a wind-aided 9.94 seconds. He had shown that he could hang with the elite.
Silmon’s first and last Big 12 Outdoor Championships would take place in his hometown of Waco. Just over a year earlier, such a stop on the career-ending tour was only a dream with TCU in the Mountain West. However, when the Frogs’ move to the Big 12 was announced and confirmed, the table was set for a special weekend for Silmon. The conference’s decision to have the meet a week earlier than the majority of major college conference championships meant that the college track and field nation would have its eyes on Waco.
The Frog senior did not waste time making sure Waco knew he was home. He qualified first in the 100 and 200-meter dash to set up a busy, yet potentially chaotic Sunday at the conference championships. The final day began with Silmon taking care of business with the men’s 4x100-meter relay, leading a group of three freshmen to the win. Two hours later, Silmon did not post his best 100-meter dash, but was able to take care of business in the sprint and earn his second conference title of the day. While it was nice to see the hometown returnee take care of business, neither performance was memorable. That was about to change.
Less than an hour later, Silmon was on the track for the 200-meter dash. Silmon’s demeanor is much different in the 200 than his other races. He sits on the sign that indicates what lane he is in to focus on his race. He has others around him practicing starts or working on sprints on the backstretch, but there he is by himself; sitting, and waiting. When it finally became time, Silmon was in the blocks and in the zone. He had his usual explosive start and when he came out of the turn was able to have a big lead, a slight surprise considering the workload and the on-paper factors. He was able to bring home the third title to an applause, but the biggest cheer came next
The board read a 20.33: the fastest time of his career and at the time the fastest mark in the nation. He had wrapped up three Big 12 titles in four hours, clinching the Men’s High Point Award for his 22.5 point haul for TCU in the team standings. It was a day the people of Waco will talk about for years to come.
After three weeks, it was back to Austin to take on the NCAA West Preliminaries. The West Prelims are a meet that while they separate the best from the rest, they can also be cruel. A season of high-quality work can be derailed by one below average performance. If you did not take care of business now, you would not be allowed to in two weeks in Eugene.
If there were any nerves for Silmon, he did not show it as his first run in nearly three weeks was an astonishing 10.03 in the first round of the 100-meter dash, a legal PR for him. A rain-soaked second day meant Silmon just had to take care of business with a wet track and a late schedule all preventing the big performances he had quickly became known for. With the sun out on the final day of the meet, the unforgettable Charles Silmon finally re-emerged.
The day began with Silmon once again guiding the men’s 4x100-meter dash squad to the top qualifying mark in the region. A short time later, he was on the blocks for the men’s 200-meter dash quarterfinals. This would be his last message to the nation of what he was capable of prior to running again in Eugene. His message was received. He dominated his heat of the 200-meter dash and was able to set another PR with a 20.23. He was now in the top-three of the NCAA for both sprints, the top-10 of the world for both and was the top seed leaving the NCAA West Preliminaries in the 100 and 200-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay.
The critics were still out there. Those who would not give Silmon a chance in spite of his fine form and relative ease he was running his races with. He was not an Olympian like some of those in the field some said, he had not faced the elite competition that the East Region would bring to Eugene other said and he benefitted form the winds more than other runners some even said.
The 100-meter dash was already going to be fast, but with the winds at their back in prelims it was going to be another fast day. Silmon was in the third heat, so he would have the benefit of watching the other runners put up their marks. Florida State’s Dentarius Locke set the stage early with a 9.97 seconds mark that was wind-legal at 1.9 m/s. The second heat was won in 10.00 seconds, and Silmon was going to need to be fast if he wanted to make sure people knew to watch him on Friday. He was able to control his race and made himself the top qualifier with a wind-aided 9.92 seconds. He would be in the middle of the track in the final, and people would be watching.
Silmon would have a busy day in between as he qualified for the final of the 200-meter dash. At last, it was time to focus on the 100-meter dash finals. The bar to get into the final was at 10.08 seconds. It was not going to be easy and a slip up by anyone would not only mean just falling back a spot or two, but potentially out of the equation altogether.
At 5:10 p.m. in Eugene, 7:10 p.m. back home at TCU, it was finally time to run the biggest race of the year. Silmon went about his usual routine of walking out ahead of the blocks further than any of his adversaries before backing into the blocks. While Silmon’s start was still very good, it was not at the usual Charles Silmon standard and he would have to chase down Locke to earn his title.
For such a short race, so much can happen. One person gets a better start than another, a runner is unable to get into his race groove around the halfway mark, one runner is moving up while another is fading back and a runner is stretching for the finish line before the finish line is in range. Sprinting is not as simple as being the first guy to a mark on the track, it is about the process of making sure one can get there as efficiently as possible.
Silmon would have to win a race like he had not had to all season, from behind. He had not lost to a collegian in the 100 all year because he never allowed one to be ahead of him. This time he would have to do the busy work from behind. He was able to do some of the work to get closer to Locke, but he still needed just that little more help. It was Locke who was able to provide an opening as he began to stretch for the finish line. Silmon was able to finish strongly and sneak in ahead for the biggest win of all.
Silmon’s running was not over as he let out a loud scream, knowing that he had come out on top. He continued to gallop through the turn, letting out the emotions from years of work that led to this moment of being the fastest man in the NCAA. He collected himself and shared a handshake with Locke, who had just missed out with a wind-aided 9.91 seconds. The goal was met.
Though Silmon had to pull out of his 200-meter dash final on Saturday and the 4x100 relay, he had created a moment that Horned Frog fans will never forget. He finished his TCU career as a champion.