Metcalf’s run at Olympics meets finish line

DK Metcalf didn’t embarrass himself in his professional track debut.

The Seattle Seahawks wide receiver learned on Sunday that he doesn’t have world-class speed but he’s also more than merely football fast.

In his first track meet since he began training to try to make next month’s U.S. Olympic Trials, Metcalf failed to advance out of his semifinal heat at the Golden Games and Distance Open in Walnut, Calif. Metcalf’s time of 10.37 seconds was very respectable given his size and limited training but still the slowest in his nine-man heat and the third slowest of all 17 entrants in the men’s 100 meters.

It wasn’t just Olympic hopefuls like Mike Rodgers and Cravon Gillespie who left Metcalf behind. Among the second-tier sprinters who also outran Metcalf were a former Canadian soccer player, the fastest man in Saudi Arabia and a few American fringe pros still hoping to achieve their first sub-10-second time.

To automatically qualify for the Olympic Trials, Metcalf would have needed to run 10.05 seconds or faster with a legal tailwind of no more than two meters per second. The remaining spots in the 32-man field at the Olympic Trials will go to the fastest men who failed to surpass the automatic qualifying mark.

In 2019, it took a qualifying time of 10.26 seconds or better to earn a place at USA Nationals. It will probably take an even faster time than that to qualify for next month’s Trials.

Metcalf developed the urge to test himself against America’s best sprinters last October after he produced one of the most jaw-dropping plays of the NFL season.

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker intercepted a Russell Wilson pass at the 2-yard line and appeared to have a clear path for a pick six. In a display of remarkable speed and effort, the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Metcalf sprinted more than 100 yards to chase down Baker shy of the goal line and deny the Cardinals a touchdown.

Amid the buzz over Metcalf’s feat, USA Track & Field sent a tongue-in-cheek tweet encouraging the second-year pro to test himself against “real speed” at the upcoming Olympic Trials. Only days later, Metcalf’s agent dialed USA Track & Field’s Adam Schmenk and revealed his client was serious about training for the 100 meters.

“DK’s agent told us that he really wants to try to make the Olympics and asked what steps he needs to take,” Schmenk told Yahoo Sports last week. “We walked him through what the auto qualifying time was that he would have to run in a sanctioned USATF event and told him that we would help him find a lane if and when he wanted to do this.”

The announcement that Metcalf would trade his football cleats for track spikes on Sunday sparked a mixture of intrigue and skepticism.

On one hand, Metcalf is undeniably one of the NFL’s fastest players. At the 2019 NFL scouting combine, he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash — 11 hundredths of a second shy of John Ross’ record time. The max speed Metcalf reached while chasing down Baker was one of the highest clocked by an NFL player last season.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf of Ole Miss runs the 40-yard dash during day three of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
At the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, DK Metcalf ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.33 seconds. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

On the other hand, Metcalf didn’t compete in track and field in college and wasn’t a flat sprinter in high school. Metcalf ran on the 4×100-meter relay and specialized in the hurdles and triple jump while leading Oxford High School to four consecutive Mississippi state titles from 2013-16.

Among those intrigued by how fast Metcalf would run were some of his competitors on Sunday. Chris Belcher, a former semifinalist in the 100 meters at the 2017 World Championships, told Yahoo Sports that “track athletes are even curious ourselves to see how close other sport athletes really are compared to us.”

Metcalf had a surprisingly good start in Sunday’s heat, but he couldn’t quite hold his speed over the latter 40 meters of the race. His time was 16 hundredths of a second shy of what he needed to advance to the nine-man final at the Golden Games. 

The presence of Metcalf brought out the best in the rest of Sunday’s field. None of them wanted to get shown up by a football player moonlighting as a sprinter.

“It most definitely is motivating to have a chance to show and remind people how fast we actually are compared to their favorite football players or other professional athletes,” Belcher said.

While Metcalf would bring star power to a sport that needs it if he qualifies for the Olympic Trials, his decision to dabble in the 100 meters was still good publicity for USA Track & Field. It served as a reminder of the gap separating the NFL’s fastest men from the likes of Justin Gatlin, Noah Lyles, Trayvon Bromell and Christian Coleman.

The other two football players that Belcher would love to race someday are Tyreek Hill and Odell Beckham Jr. In May 2012, Hill ran a wind-legal 10.19 in the 100 and 20.14 in the 200. Beckham is the son of six-time All-American former LSU sprinter Heather Van Norman and excelled as a sprinter and long jumper in high school.

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