Isiah Young: “I sort of stumbled into track”

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The relatively unheralded Isiah Young has appeared from nowhere to head the men’s US 200m rankings going into Moscow. SPIKES just had to find out more about the next Kansas Cannonball.

For a certain sprinter named Usain Bolt, a diet of chicken nuggets has never been a barrier to success but for American sprinter Isiah Young, 23, removing the popular snack from his plate has made all the difference.

“It’s been one of the little things I’ve done,” says Young. “I’ve replaced fast food and all the junk stuff,” he says. “I used to love chicken nuggets but I’ve now replaced it with other things, like salmon and rice.”

If his new diet is the key to good sprinting then the salmon stocks of the North Atlantic could be under even greater threat, because the rise of Team USA’s main man over 200m has been truly remarkable.

Unheard of in international circles 18 months ago, this season only Bolt and Jamaican team-mate, Olympic 200m bronze medallist, Warren Weir, have ran quicker than Young, from Kansas.

So just who is Isiah Young?

Trawling through the records, he was no teenage phenom. In fact, he took up the sport a little reluctantly in his senior year at high school because: “I needed to pick up a sport to graduate.”

“I did football in the fall and in the spring it had to be either baseball or track,” he says. “I didn’t like baseball, so that’s why I tried track. I sort of stumbled into track.”

His talent wasn’t blindingly obvious, either. He ran 11 flat for the 100m and 22 flat for the 200m at high school.

“When I first started I thought it was just like running on the street. I had no technique.”

At the University of Mississippi he showed flashes of talent but in the uber-competitive world of US collegiate sport, he still didn’t stand out. He ran 10.32 for the 100m and 21.29 for 200m, but a lack of application both on and off the track saw him fail his exams and he missed a year competing in 2011.

It was the kick up the backside he needed.

“After that I knew I had to take my college more seriously,” he says.

He returned a more focused athlete and with a new attitude. He hooked up with his current coach Brian O’Neal, and committed fully to both his academic work and track programme.

“It really was a big change,” says Isiah. “I listened to my coach and it made sense to follow his plans. He taught me that I’m not going to just turn up and win medals. I have to work hard for it. He is always in my ear, but gives me the belief I can do it. He says, ‘I should always aim to be the perfect runner’.”

In 2012, bolstered by a more professional approach, he stunned many observers at the US Olympic Trials by blitzing to 20.16, the fastest run of his life, to shade third spot in the 200m. He booked his ticket to London by just 0.01, ahead of Calesio Newman.

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Young ran 20.55 in the first round at London 2012 but exited at the semi-final stage in 20.89.

His first taste of major international competition, however, proved a chastening experience. Drained from competing in 47 races (including heats and finals) before he made it to the start line in London, he failed to deliver his best, finishing eighth and last in his 200m semi-final.

“I was a little disappointed at not medalling and not making the final,” he says. “I don’t want to make excuses but it had been a long season competing indoors and out.”

A painful memory – but something of a learning curve.

“I realised how to run between the rounds and maybe run a little easier and save something for the next round,” he says.

He has continued to thrive under the coaching of O’Neal this winter, and has made progress as a 100m sprinter: three times dipping below ten seconds. He finished “a disappointed” seventh in the US champs in the short sprint, yet once again delivered in his favoured 200m, placing second.

In Des Moines he stopped the clock in an impressive new personal best of 19.86 (his previous legal best was 20.17) to make a clear statement of his podium potential in Moscow.

“It was an okay performance,” he says modestly of the run which places him just outside the top 20 all time. “I walked away healthy, and I’m now going for the World Championships.”

The 23-year-old, who graduated in criminal justice in May and turned pro the following month, is now set to be exposed to a whole new range of pressures in the Russian capital: where he’ll be the No.1 ranked US men’s 200m sprinter.

Confidence is not in short supply for the man who knows his strengths: “good turnover and good speed endurance.”

"My aims for Moscow are to walk away with a medal. I’m looking forward to doing the best I can."