London 2012: 10 Things You Need to Know About US Sprinter Walter Dix

Noah JampolFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2012

London 2012: 10 Things You Need to Know About US Sprinter Walter Dix

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    Walter Dix just doesn't get enough love.

    Usain Bolt dominates the water-cooler discussion, the SportsCenter top 10 and all of the TV hype.

    Bolt's Jamaican teammate, the neophyte Yohan Blake, has already been anointed as the No. 1 challenger to Bolt's throne.

    Heck, even for the underdog Americans, it's Dix's teammate, Tyson Gay, who gets the Gillette commercial and the appearance on Shaq's reality show.

    You wouldn't know it from the lack of hype, but Walter Dix is a potential breakout star. He's the most likely American sprinter to skyrocket to worldwide fame by springing an upset over the Jamaicans.

    Here are the things you need to know about this understated star who could change Olympic history by stunning Bolt in front of millions at London.

1. He's the 4th Fastest Man of All Time at 200 Meters

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    In a short professional career, Walter Dix has already established himself as one of the best sprinters of all time.

    His time of 19.53 seconds for 200 meters has only been bettered by three athletes, a total of just five times. Every single one of the athletes ahead of him has gold from a World Championships or an Olympics.

    As Dix's luck would have it, he will likely square off against two of those men, Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt, in London.

    When you watch video of Walter Dix's 19.53, there is some apparent easing up at the finish, in my view. Dix is likely somewhat demoralized by Yohan Blake's sensational stretch run.

    As we'll see later, that sort of late-race slippage is very atypical for Dix, who generally makes his last 50 meters his best.

    Combine that with some possible fatigue—his 19.53 took place in the final race of a long season—and there might just be more in the tank for Dix in the 200. If you're in 19.2-19.4 fitness for 200, you have a shot in any race against any opponent.

2. He's Just 5'9'', 190 Pounds

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    Walter Dix competes in the shadows of some of his competitors not just figuratively, but literally given his diminutive frame for this generation's breed of elite sprinter.

    At just 5'9'', 190 pounds, Dix is dwarfed by rivals Usain Bolt (6'5'') and Christophe Lemaitre (6'2.5'') who joined him on the podium in Daegu. Even some of his less imposing rivals like Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake have a couple of inches on him.

    Dix makes up for his disadvantage in height with an incredibly powerful stride, quick acceleration and elite stride turnover.

    Dix' size also makes him more of an everyman than an absolute athletic freak like Usain Bolt, who along with athletes like LeBron James seems to have come from a different planet.

3. He Is Clutch

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    Walter Dix has consistently run at his highest level at championship events.

    As a collegiate athlete at Florida State, he won three outdoor 200-meter titles. That includes one his senior year when he was hampered by a hamstring injury and far from his best.

    Going into Beijing, he was not considered one of the favorites to get medals in either the 100 or 200. However, he set a personal best in his weaker event, the 100 (with no tailwind), to help him to earn a surprise bronze in the 100 in addition to a bronze in the 200.

    In Daegu, he followed the same script again, overachieving and running stellar races even with two sets of rounds and some loaded fields. 

    Rivals like Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay might get more press, but Dix has been the better bet to take the starting line at the final and end up on the podium.

4. He Signed a Megadeal with Nike Right out of College

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    Walter Dix's prolific college career earned him attention, praise and yes, an unprecedented bundle of cash from Nike.

    Dix actually made an unorthodox move upon completing his NCAA career. He took a big risk and declined to sign with a sponsor until after the U.S. Olympic trials. As he told USA Today, he "flipped the script."

    In retrospect, the tactic worked brilliantly as Dix delivered at the U.S. Olympic Trials, making the 200 squad and, somewhat unexpectedly, the 100 team to boot. Talk about running under pressure.

    Dix's Nike megadeal was worth between $4-5 million over the first four years of his pro career. The big money deal obviously didn't hinder Dix's drive, as he celebrated with two medals in Beijing shortly after signing.

    That contract was, just a year later, part of a bitter contract dispute with his agent who had negotiated it. It resulted in a somewhat bizarre 2009 season that had Dix escaping the spotlight and competing sparingly.

    Fortunately, Dix turned the page in 2010 and has not looked back one bit since.

5. He Shuns Media Attention and the Spotlight

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    Despite facing a brash rival in Usain Bolt who loves to dance, talk big and dominate the spotlight, Walter Dix has never bought into talking a big game and putting his personality out there.

    Instead, he has taken the low-profile route, preferring for his performances to do the talking.

    In a typical exchange, asked by an OC Register reporter if his 9.85-second 100 meter at Mt. Sac on April 21 sent a message to his Jamaican rivals, Dix responded, "That's for you guys to write."

    The photo above, in fact, surprises me, as it's rare to see Dix smile and goof around. His race demeanor mirrors this as he wears sunglasses and is all-business on the track with no hysterics or playing up for the crowd.

    Dix had this to say to the AP about Bolt and the spotlight he seems to eschew:

    "Before 2008, nobody had the perception that he (Bolt) 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.

    He continued on to explain in typical fashion what his solution to the lack of buzz around him will be:

    "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."

    With Dix, we can hope that as his race performances improve and the world gets to see more of him, he begins to break out of his shell and engage in some of the rivalry with the Jamaicans on and off the track.

    At the moment, he is probably taking the right course in not needlessly creating distractions or lighting a fire under his fellow competitors.


6. He's Got a Lot of Hardware

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    Walter Dix might not have Michael Phelps' trophy room, but his collection is not too shabby at all. 

    At Florida State, he racked up 18 All-American plaques and a historic eight individual NCAA titles.

    As a professional, his medal collection includes four USA Outdoor titles, two Olympic bronze medals, and two World Championships silver medals.

    Of course, the one color he lacks in his international career is the all-important one of gold.

    After upgrading from bronze to silver in 2011, you can be sure Walter is aiming for some gold to really tie the room together.

7. He's Getting Completely Overlooked by Many

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    Fresh off of giving Walter Dix what I believed were very modest odds of 25:1 to win the 200 in my U.S. Sprints Preview piece, I was astonished to see the Twitter reaction from Jamaicans.

    An example of that came from @jcanwisegrrl who said of the 200 meter, "The 200m odds r even better. Usain wud have 2 break a body part 2 lose."

    That was somewhat typical of the attitude, which was that Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake were pretty much untouchable. 

    Obviously given Bolt's international championships performance since 2008, it is hard to quibble too much with the Jamaicans' brashness.

    However, Usain Bolt has dealt with injury issues in recent years. He false-started just last year in the 100, which provided further evidence that his inconsistent start might be playing games in his head.

    His compatriot, Yohan Blake, has never competed in the 200 meters at a World Championships.

    Not to say Dix should be on the same footing as those two, but much crazier things have happened and will continue to happen at a pressure-packed event like the Olympics.

    To his credit, Walter Dix is not buying into the hype that Bolt is unbeatable. Dix had this to say when asked in 2011 by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about Bolt's invincibility:

    "His start is so efficient and so technically sound that if you're not up there with him at the 40-meter mark, you might as well hang it up," Dix said. "If I get my start efficiency at a decent level, I think I'll be able to compete and win that chess match."


8. He Has Always Been Really Fast

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    While we love to be blind-sided by an athlete who comes out of nowhere (hello, Linsanity), it is also impressive to see an athlete who excels in high school live up to all his promise.

    Walter Dix was nothing short of a show-stopper in Florida high school track. His senior year he ran 10.28 for 100 meters and 20.62 for 200 meters—the state record in an area that produces some of the fastest athletes in the world.

    He was even able to compete in the Olympic Trials at the age of 18 in 2004.

    At Florida State, his insane times at a young age didn't stop, as he set the American Junior Record for 100 meters with a 10.06 time as a freshman.

    Obviously, the pressure and expectations of medals at the Olympics that come with sensational running at a young age haven't been enough to slow Dix's rise to the top.

9. He Kind of Followed the 'Kobe' Script with His Hair

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    And now for a less serious one.

    As you can see in the photo, Walter Dix used to rock dreads and longer hair. There were also no sunglasses, and Dix tended to stand out in his races. This is much like how young Kobe Bryant used to sport a big afro. 

    Similar to how Kobe eschewed the hair for a slicker look, Dix ditched the dreadlocks and now competes with a tidy buzz-cut. He also added Oakley Sunglasses to his race-day look.

    The end result? Dix looks really fast on the track, and hey, maybe he's dropping off a nanosecond without the extra hair.

10. He Can Finish Races and Run People Down

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    Walter Dix can close like a freight-train in the final stages of sprint races.

    In last year's 100 meters at the World Championships, Dix shook off a dreadful start to run down three competitors in the last 50 meters. Similarly, he worked some of the same magic in Beijing to earn bronze.

    Last year's 100 at the USA Championships was some more of the same formula with Dix running down four or five competitors in the second half to take the race.

    If Dix can correct his start issues in the 100, he will be a major challenger for the best in the world come London.

    We already know what he can do in the 200 from his 19.53, so it's just a matter of Dix perfecting his start, closing like he's capable and then hoping for something a little less otherworldly out of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.

    And if that happens, he won't even have to give us a dance for us to remember him.