Sport Turns Serious For Spearmon, Gay

FAYETTEVILLE -- Wallace Spearmon Jr.'s plan for running three rounds of the 200 meters this weekend comes from coach Lance Brauman, but it sounds like Martha Stewart.

"You have to spread your cheese wisely," Spearmon said, grinning at how silly it seemed.

Spearmon is still 20 years old, still watches cartoons with his younger brother and compared the happy ending to his brief but historic Arkansas career to a Disney movie.

But things are serious now that Spearmon has signed a five-year contract with Nike paying him top dollar to run fast and the Fayetteville native and Razorback legacy will try to make the American team for the upcoming World Championships.

Spearmon, who has led the world in the 200 meters for all but two days since January, and fellow former Hog Tyson Gay, 22, who received a high-end contract with adidas, are both making their pro debuts in Carson, Calif., at the U.S. Track and Field Championships.

Ranked 1-2 in the world, respectively, in the 200, at 19.91 and 19.93 seconds, the first professional competitions by Spearmon and Gay will be a lead story throughout the meet as they challenge current stars such as Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford.

Gatlin, 23, is the reigning Olympic 100 champion and his training partner Crawford, 27, captured gold in the 200 with Gatlin good for bronze.

"I want to beat them all," Gay said.

The top three finishers in each event make the American team.

"I'd like to go first and second," Spearmon said. "I don't see why we couldn't."

Spearmon already has beaten one of Crawford's records.

On the same track Crawford and John Capel set the American indoor 200 record at 20.26 in 2000, Spearmon lowered it from 20.2 to 20.1 this March at the NCAA Championships.

Neither Gay nor Spearmon are far off the collegiate best of 19.86 by Gatlin as a sophomore at Tennessee in 2002.

Spearmon will run the 200 this weekend while Gay will attempt to double in the 200 and 100, the straightaway event he won at the 2004 NCAA Championships.

Learning how to run like the pros is something both learned last year in their first meetings at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento.

Spearmon laid the cheese on too thick.

He ran a personal-best 20.25 in the first round and then went 20.6 and 20.92, finishing last in his semifinal heat.

"I had to learn some of the pros are a little stronger and they like to show off," he said. "Shawn Crawford dropped 19 in the first round. I was like, 'Hey, I might as well try to do that, too.'

"That's not for everybody."

Gay got a deep tissue massage on his hamstring less than an hour before the finals of the 200 and it seized up on him running the turn in lane eight, forcing him to drop out.

"I felt I missed out last year on a special opportunity to make the Olympic team," said Gay, who came into the meet the second-ranked American in the 200.

Later, Spearmon would say, "I saw a lot of Gatlin's back."

"I was disappointed last year," Spearmon said Monday, "but it was my first year out and I couldn't be too disappointed."

Neither are under pressure to make the American team for the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, this August. Both were signed with a view to the long-term and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Gay will run the first round of the 100 at 8:40 p.m. Friday, but will decide on whether to complete the competition with the first round of the 200 less than three hours after the 100 final at 4:52 p.m. on Saturday.

"We're going to do what's most conducive to making that team," Brauman said of Gay's meet plan. "The decision hasn't totally been made."

Spearmon and Gay will stay in Fayetteville to train and finish school. Gay is near his degree in marketing and Spearmon's mother had Nike agree to pay his tuition and write into his contract he must graduate.

"It's kind of unusual," McDonnell said. "She definitely wanted him to finish school and so did I. It's the best of both worlds for Wallace Spearmon."

True to form, Spearmon swiped a line from "The Lion King" to describe his mental state.

"I'm hakuna matata," he said.

In English, Gay said the same.

"I can run worry free," he said. "I have a contract. I'm satisfied with my shoe company.

"If I make the team, it's a blessing. If I don't, I'm still going to go run in Europe. That's what I'm getting prepared for.

The field is loaded with veteran pros like Gatlin, Crawford and fellow up and comers like LSU freshman Xavier Carter, who is fourth in the world at 20.02 from the Mideast Regional when he knocked off Gay and Spearmon.

Brauman, the Arkansas sprints coach who molded them into million-dollar track prospects, continues to train the pair and has a good feeling about their chances.

"Right now, they're running really well," Brauman said. "I think they both have a good shot at making that team.

"That's what the plan is right now."

Brauman has trained his athletes with a view toward this meet all season and Gay sat out the NCAA Indoor Championships with a sore hamstring because Arkansas coach John McDonnell didn't want to jeopardize his pro career.

"Hopefully they're a little ahead of those guys because they have done some racing," Brauman said. "But at the same time, they haven't been overraced by any means."

Spearmon has run more races, but McDonnell noted Spearmon ran faster than ever with his 19.91 June 11 at the NCAA Championships, his third individual national title.

"He's at the top of his form and so is Tyson," he said.

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