His steely focus was like that of the sinewy sprinters beside him on Sunday, but his 6-foot-4, 229-pound frame gave away that he was different. A wide receiver with the Seattle Seahawks who ran the 40 in 4.33 seconds at the NFL combine, Metcalf took on near-legendary status with his spectacular, touchdown-saving rundown of Arizona’s Budda Baker after Baker had intercepted a Russell Wilson pass last October. That blazing speed meant he should be competing in the Olympics, right?
Hold on a second — at least. Being fast in football isn’t the same as being fast on the track, and the 100 requires mastering quick, tricky phases. But USA Track and Field officials, seeing a chance to bring attention to a sport that has lost favor among spectators, invited him to run on Sunday at renovated Hilmer Lodge Stadium. Metcalf, who was a hurdler in high school but hadn’t run the 100, gladly accepted.
Why do it? “Why not?” he said. “Just another way to test my body, test myself against different athletes besides just doing football training all day.”
Although sprinter Noah Lyles had said Metcalf should “be prepared to get your butt kicked,” Metcalf didn’t embarrass himself. His reaction time of 0.181 wasn’t the worst but he struggled in the back half of the race and finished the last of nine in his heat in 10.363 seconds, missing the Olympic trials automatic qualifying time of 10.05 seconds. He didn’t advance to the final, which was won by Pasadena native Cravon Gillespie in 9.96 seconds.
But in no way was Metcalf a loser. He pushed himself beyond familiar turf and put track and field in a spotlight it hasn’t enjoyed for a while. “These are world-class athletes. They do this for a living,” Metcalf said. “It’s very different from football speed, from what I just realized.
“Personally, it was a good experience. Anybody else who has a different opinion, you’re entitled to your own opinion. But I think I did very well for myself.”
Gillespie agreed. “He actually competed very well,” Gillespie said. “It’s good for the sport. Everybody’s talking about it. It gives track and field a bigger platform. I was getting tagged on Twitter. It’s definitely good having him around. I feel like it helped the sport tremendously.”
Metcalf is preparing to get back to football but left open the possibility he will try again to get the standard for the Olympic trials in June in Eugene, Ore. “One reason I came out here was I really do think and thought I really had — have — a good chance of qualifying,” he said. It would be interesting to see how close he could come if he works intensely at it.
Those who have the Olympics in mind rather than NFL mini-camps put on a show during a day that began chilly and overcast but warmed up to produce some notable performances.
Blue-haired Sha’Carri Richardson, 21, affirmed that she's someone to watch when she won the women’s 100-meter dash in 10.77 seconds while running into a headwind of 1.2 meters per second. She ran 10.74 in her heat on Sunday and owns three of the top four times in the event this season. Historically, only Florence Griffith-Joyner, Marion Jones and Carmelita Jeter have run the 100 faster than 10.7 seconds. Her power and poise were stunning.
“I am grateful as a track athlete to have a season and just am able to show people in the professional world I’m here and I’m a force to be reckoned with,” Richardson said. “I definitely want to get into the sub-10.7 range and from there continue to execute and get faster.”
Lyles, the 2019 world champion in the 200, passed Kenny Bednarek down the stretch to win his event in 19.90 seconds. Bednarek’s time was 19.94 seconds.
“To be honest I was coming in here with some pretty low expectations. I excelled all of them,” said Lyles, who ran in Lane 7. Rai Benjamin, who ran in college for UCLA and USC, was timed in a world-leading 47.13 seconds in the men’s 400-meter hurdles, his first competition in the event since 2019. “The 400 hurdles is like muscle memory,” he said. “I thought I came out and competed well today and ran the race to the best of my ability.”
Michael Norman, a four-time NCAA champion at USC, ran a season’s best 44.43 in the 400. “I had no expectations coming into this race. We were just focusing on executing the race,” he said after recording the second-fastest time in the world this season. “Don’t know how I did, honestly, yet until I rewatch the video. It’s a great feeling just to be out here competing. I always love competing in California.”
Keni Harrison, the world record holder in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, won her event in 12.48 seconds and Sydney McLaughlin, who trains in Los Angeles, ran a personal-best 12.65. Shamier Little ran the women’s 400-meter hurdles in a world-leading time of 53.65 seconds, her first competition in that race since 2019. “Never content, never pleased. I know I can go faster,” Little said.
Allyson Felix of Los Angeles, a nine-time Olympic medalist who is trying to qualify for her fifth Summer Games, made a late charge to finish second in the women’s 200 in 22.26 seconds. Gabby Thomas won in 22.12 seconds.
“I’m working my way,” said Felix, who opened her season by running the 100 two weeks ago. “I haven’t run too many 200s of late. Kind of a starting-out point.”
Felix said she’s planning to next run the 400. “Just working on getting races under my belt and putting races together before the trials,” she said.
Chances are Metcalf will be a spectator at the Olympic trials, not a competitor. But on Sunday he brought a welcome element of excitement, and if his presence drew some fans who will come back to watch Richardson, Norman, Felix and others, he scored a bigger victory than he could have imagined.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.