By his own admission sophomore Christian Coleman doesn’t have the fundamentals down as well as other sprinters.
What Coleman does have is determination and a fierce competitive attitude.
Attending Our Lady of Mercy high school in Atlanta, Coleman was an all-state, region, and county defensive back and wide receiver and it is that football back ground that makes him so tough on the track.
“I feel like I’ve got that killer instinct, that competitive edge in me,” Coleman said. “I go out, and I just try to compete.”
Coleman doesn't shy away from big time competition. Playing defensive back in the state of Georgia Coleman went against guys bigger than he was but faced them and most of the time beat them.
“I’m not really afraid of running against guys that have like this big name,” Coleman said.
Those are sentiments his head coach Beth Alford-Sullivan echoes.
“He would not be denied in that in win at the 200 indoors at the National Championships,” Alford-Sullivan said. “He wanted the win in the 60 and as he said in his interview it took them PRing to beat him.
“He really respected that but at the same time letting that race be over and turning his attention to the 200 there was a decision in his head that it was whatever it takes.”
Running the 200 meter in 20.55 seconds is what it took for Coleman to become a National Champion at the 2016 NCAA Indoor National Championships.
While many see Coleman as having just now burst onto the scene, Alford-Sullivan said he has been achieving at a high level for a while. In high school Coleman ran the 100 meter at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in 10.30 seconds which was the fastest time in Georgia and the 5th best nationally. Coleman also finished 5th in the 200 at that meet with a time of 20.94, again the fastest time in Georgia and 11th fastest in the nation.
In his senior year of high school Coleman set the Georgia Class A State records for the 100 meter, 200, and the 4x100 meter relay. Those times were 10.38, 21.10 and 41.88, respectively.
As a freshman at Tennessee Coleman was named as the SEC Men’s Freshman Runner of the Year. He was also the first Tennessee athlete to score in the 60 meter at nationals since Rubin Williams in 2008 and the first freshman to do so since Justin Gatlin in 2001.
Even with all the early success, Coleman brushes it off as “a little bit of success.” Instead focusing on what he didn’t do and using it as motivation.
“At nationals last year I didn’t make the final in the 100 or 200,” Coleman said. “After that day I told coach (Tim) Hall that I was going to make it back here and next year it’ll be different. It’ll be something special.
“I took that mentality into the off season and kept working and kept my goals in mind.”
Even though Coleman won the National Championship he didn’t come into the meet with the fastest time in the 200. In fact he was third in the nation going in behind Mitchell-Blake and Brendon Rodney of LIU Brooklyn. It didn’t matter because Coleman had already decided that he wasn’t going to lose.
It isn’t just about himself though, his success has led his teammates to strive and reach for the same levels of success. Felicia Brown who won the 200 meter 2016 Indoor National Championship on the women’s side said just watching what he does inspires everyone else.
Fellow sophomore and Georgia native Nathan Strother runs with Coleman in several of the relay events said seeing Coleman run the earlier leg of the relay and watching him get a lead on the other guys pushes the rest of the relay runners to piggy back off that and keep the success going.
The constant pushing and not wanting to let each other down led the men’s 4x100 meter relay team to a fifth place finish at the indoor national championships.
Strother said seeing Coleman reach the national championships as a freshman helped everyone on the team and gave the rest of the team confidence.
“Seeing him do that made me want to strive to do better,” Strother said. “By doing that he helped other people on our team.”
Alford-Sullivan sees Coleman as potentially being one of the next great Tennessee sprinters. Racking up multiple All-American honors and winning more SEC and National Championships. Alford-Sullivan said that he will catch up were the fundamentals are concerned and pairing that with his fierce competitiveness, the successes will continue to come.
Coleman has already seen the successes come almost on a weekly basis. He set the Olympic A Standard in the 100 meters with a time of 10.11 and will compete for a spot on the USA Olympic National team in July at the Olympic Trials. No one can deny the allure that the Olympics has and with 2016 being an Olympic year some of those who could make the team might have their attention drawn away from the task set before them.
It is something Alford-Sullivan deals with daily as she has several athletes set to compete at the Olympic Trials.
“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” Alford-Sullivan said. “You don’t want to be thinking about things in June or July, the games being in August. That’s a long ways off. If you’re thinking about that then you’re not getting the work in the day you need to get done.
“I have a saying that I always say to everybody at the end of practices, One Day Closer.”
For Coleman he is listening and taking things one day at a time. While he says the Olympics are a dream and desire of his he first wants to get back and win an SEC title and then another national championship.
“That ultimate desire to win,” Alford-Sullivan said. “You can’t coach that, they got to have that within them.”
Coleman certainly does.