Walter Dix wins the men's 200m at the Diamond League Prefontaine Classic in Eugene.
Reserved sprinter Walter Dix breaking out of shell
By Associated Press
June 21 2011
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - For years, sprinter Walter Dix has cultivated an air of mystery with his quiet and reserved demeanor.
In a sport known for its flash, Dix simply preferred not to stand out, which was hard to do after a highly decorated career at Florida State and even harder after capturing two Olympic bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing Games.
More and more, though, he's stepping out of his shell as he hopes to climb out of the shadows of Jamaica's Usain Bolt and fellow American Tyson Gay, possibly even steal some of their spotlight.
Only then, Dix insisted, will fans see a glimpse of his true personality, one that he asserts leans more toward showy than shy.
Until that time, he's content with just being an enigma.
"The less people know, the more they want to conjure up for themselves," said Dix, who will run the 100 and 200 at the U.S. championships in Eugene, Ore., this weekend. "There's power in (anonymity), because the people don't know what to expect, don't expect anything.
"Hopefully, they'll find out that I want to be one of the greatest athletes to walk on this planet."
That's a tall order in this era of Bolt, who's chewing up records each time he tears down the track at a major meet. The Jamaican sensation has set the bar so high in sprinting, forcing others to raise their game or be left in his dust.
And that's what Dix has been quietly doing on a sun-splashed track in Tampa, Fla., this spring, running in only a handful of meets.
That's all part of his plan: Diligently work on his starts in relative seclusion and "let it hang out at nationals."
The field is quite deep in the 100 at U.S. championships, with Gay the clear favorite. But there's also Michael Rodgers, Darvis Patton and Justin Gatlin, who returned last year after a four-year suspension for doping.
They're all vying for a spot at worlds in Daegu, South Korea, later this summer and a chance to possibly face Bolt.
In the 200, Dix may very well be the favorite, depending on the status of Gay, who won't make any decisions on whether he will run the event until after his performance in the 100. Wallace Spearmon, another top contender in the 200, is contending with a left Achilles' tendon ailment that's hindered his training.
Gatlin could be a factor in that race, too, along with a host of up-and-coming runners such as Mookie Salaam of Oklahoma and NCAA champion Maurice Mitchell of Florida State.
"In the 200, a lot of people are expecting me to do some things," Dix said. "In the 100, I want to shock people."
Beating Gay would definitely send a message. After all, Gay is the fastest runner in the world not named Bolt.
To get his named mentioned in the same sentence as Bolt and Gay, Dix realizes he has to upstage them at a big competition.
Should that happen, Dix said his personality will shine through. And remember, Bolt didn't really start dancing and entertaining the crowd with his antics until after he started shattering records.
"Before 2008, nobody had the perception that he was a clown," Dix said. "But when you're in the spotlight, people get to know you."
Dix paused and chuckled.
"I'm not saying I'm going to start dancing, though," he said.
Now, more than ever, he craves a piece of the spotlight to show people he's not a reluctant star who shies away from the exposure. Maybe once true, it's become a label he's eager to shed.
At Florida State, Dix was trumpeted as the future of American sprinting.
That was pressure.
In Beijing, he captured two bronze medals and was on his way to becoming one of the faces of American sprinting.
Even more pressure.
At first, he was rather uncomfortable with all the pressure and attention.
It showed on the track.
The 25-year-old had a rough performance at the '09 U.S. championships after hurting his hamstring in the 100, an ailment that kept him out of the 200, as well.
About then, Dix also was going through a coaching switch and found himself embroiled in a legal scuffle with his agent - whom he's since left - over, in part, a contract deal with Nike, who's still his sponsor.
This wasn't exactly the direction you'd expect a sprinter who won two bronze medals in Beijing to travel. He should've been cashing in on his fame, not backsliding.
Since then, he's been steadily getting his career back on track. He's returned to the basics, tinkering with his start under the direction of veteran coach Rey Robinson. In Dix's mind, his burst out of the blocks will be key in closing the gap on Bolt, the world record holder in both the 100 (9.58) and 200 (19.19).
"The pressure of running fast that Bolt has put on everyone, it's made athletes and coaches respond in practice," Dix said. "He put pressure on all of us."
Especially in the 100.
"Ten-flat is not good enough now," said Dix, who turned in his top 100 time of 9.88 seconds last August. "Bolt showed that those 10-flat times that we're running are ancient. It tells you what's to come."
For track's most puzzling sprinter, the time might just be arriving to show the world another side of him, one that's not so bashful and maybe even bubbly - like Bolt.
All Dix needs is a setting and a stage.
"I'm not in the bright lights like Gay and Bolt," Dix said. "I don't get to be funny or be on SportsCenter.
"But it doesn't bother me because, like my dad always says, running fast solves everything."