Christian Coleman has not allowed himself to be wowed or awestruck by Usain Bolt, no matter how much the 21-year-old from Atlanta has respected and looked up to the three-time 100-meter Olympic gold medalist.
Coleman is making his professional debut at the IAAF World Championships in London, and he got off to a flying start by taking silver in the 100 meters behind fellow University of Tennessee track legend Justin Gatlin.
Coleman beat Bolt in a heat and again in the final on Saturday en route to his historic finish.
Coleman said he tried to approach the Jamaican superstar as he would any competitor — but after the race, he listened carefully to words Bolt shared with him.
“We’re both competitors so he was focused the whole weekend,” Coleman told SEC Country in a phone interview on Sunday, asked about his interactions with Bolt. “After the race, I had a couple of words with him.
“He told me how fast my start was and that I need to work on my finish, and then he told me I have a lot of talent and a bright future.”
Coleman set the NCAA record in June with a 9.82-second time in the 100 meters that stands as the fastest run in the world this year, making him one of the most promising track stars in the world.
But hearing those words from Bolt after the final race of a storied career no doubt will leave Coleman with a lifelong memory.
Coleman’s boyish looks and pleasant disposition bely a fierce competitor within. Coleman has been fueled by a lifetime of doubters, be it on the football field or in the track recruiting ranks.
“You have to have confidence, even if you come up short, you come back and go harder,” said Coleman, whose sights are now set on the 400-meter relay Friday. “I think it comes from within, me being a competitor. I’ve never been one to back down from anyone.
“I’ve had years of having that mindset, and it came into play this weekend, so I was focused and ready for the moment.”
Coleman announced his decision to turn pro in June, explaining he felt momentum after matching Gatlin’s achievement of sweeping the 60 and 200 at the indoor national meet, and the 100 and 200 at the outdoors.
The surprise, however, is that Coleman has remained enrolled at the University of Tennessee and plans to finish his degree.
“I’ll be back in Knoxville in a couple of weeks and back in class,” Coleman said. “I’ll be at the football games, I’m a huge fan.”
No doubt, Coleman ran the fastest 40-yard dash ever earlier this year at Tennessee, something that got the football world’s attention and promoted the Vols’ track program.
Coleman said he’s considering running other pro track events after London, but nothing is set at this time beyond the obvious goals of the 2019 World Championships and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
As much as Coleman could appreciate his second-place finish in the 100 on Saturday, he’s eager to improve himself and find gold.
“There’s always things you can improve on, whether it’s my diet or my form, little things can make a difference,” Coleman said. “I’ll do much of the same of what I’ve been doing [training] — you make it to this point, you don’t change a lot.”
One thing that won’t change, Coleman said, is how he’ll go about his business in Knoxville.
“I’ll still be carrying my own backpack,” Coleman said with a chuckle.