Just 16, Quincy Wilson sets a 400 record and takes aim at Paris Olympics

just 16, quincy wilson sets a 400 record and takes aim at paris olympics

Just 16, Quincy Wilson sets a 400 record and takes aim at Paris Olympics

EUGENE, Ore. — On the night before the biggest race of his life, Quincy Wilson dreamed about Paris. He does not own a driver’s license and does not need to shave, and still he came here with towering ambition. In one stunning lap around Hayward Field on the opening night of the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, Wilson made one thing abundantly clear: Making the Olympics at 16 years old may be a dream, but for him it’s no fantasy.

A sprinting phenom and straight-A student at Bullis School, Wilson had already become a future star of American track and field. The future arrived all of a sudden Friday night. With “Bullis” emblazoned across the front of his uniform, Wilson ran 400 meters in 44.66 seconds, shattering the under-18 world record and breaking an American record that Darrell Robinson had held for 42 years.

Wilson walked to the starting line in a racing singlet New Balance let him design himself, a Maryland state flag pattern. He had never broken 45.13 seconds before, but he knew the time 44.84, the under-18 world record Justin Robinson set five years ago.

“I’ve been looking at that all season,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s time nudged past the U.S. high school record by 0.03 seconds. It also allowed him to win his heat comfortably and made him the second-fastest qualifier for the 400-meter semifinals Sunday. The top three finishers in Monday’s final will make it to Paris. In a field that is open after world champion Michael Norman, Wilson declared himself a legitimate threat.

“I expected him to run fast,” said Chris Bailey, the third-fastest qualifier. “I didn’t expect him to run that fast. And I give him his props. What he’s been doing the whole year has been amazing.”

The aficionados at Hayward Field had taken note of Wilson’s precocious exploits. When the public address announced his name at the start line, Wilson received the largest cheer. On a night when Athing Mu made her season debut after rehabbing a hamstring injury, Sha’Carri Richardson began her quest to make her first Olympic team and native Oregonian Ryan Crouser heaved a shot put into orbit, Wilson became the main attraction.

“It’s a different game,” Wilson said. “I’m not running high school anymore. I’m running with the big dogs.”

There is no missing Wilson’s youth. He barely has peach fuzz, and his grin — “that million-dollar smile,” Coach Joe Lee said — makes him look even younger than 16. On the track, though, Wilson never blinked. When he crossed the line, he waved to his crowd, welcoming even more cheers as his crackling time posted on the scoreboard.

“Probably like a 2,” Wilson said, when about his nerves on a scale of 1 to 10. “I’m racing against bigger people that got brands and things like that. To me, everybody puts their spikes on the same way I do. I train just as hard as they do. It’s just the best of the best going at each other.”

Lee believed Wilson was capable of that time. Back in the fall, Lee put Wilson through a test run, putting 45 seconds on a stopwatch and then measuring how far Wilson could sprint in that time. When the clock struck zero, Wilson had run 399.2 meters. Lee double-checked his watch to make sure he had not mistakenly added a couple of seconds.

Experience on the Hayward track helped. Last summer, at an under-20 meet here, Wilson faded to fourth after he burst into a full sprint halfway through the race, a sign of his overexcitement at his first major national meet. Lee used the race as a lesson.

“We’re going to come back here,” Lee said then, “and it’s going to be a lot different.”

Lee emphasized that Wilson is still a kid, a rising junior in high school, barely straddling adolescence. Among academic awards, Wilson won a Bullis honor called the Joy of Life Award. But he did not hold back their expectations. Wilson, the All-Met Athlete of the Year this winter and spring, has dreamed of the Olympics since he began running track at age 8, and he does not want to wait until he turns 20.

“He’s still a 16-year-old young man — he’d be upset if I called him a boy,” Lee said. “He’s not a pro yet, although mentally he’s right there with the best of them. He’s not afraid when he comes in here. He’s not intimidated. He believes he belongs because he does. We knew this was possible.”

Wilson’s next challenge will be to prove he can handle the burden of a meet with multiple rounds. He has already sought counsel from stars Noah Lyles and Grant Holloway about how to maintain his stamina. Lee had Wilson run a pair of 4x400 relay legs five hours apart this year at the Penn Relays in part to prepare him.

“He trains harder than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Lee said. “This is just everyday work for us. Yes, he can do it. I think he’s got more in him.”

“It’s only the first round,” Wilson said. “I hope there’s more of that record to break.”

As one Maryland track star began his ascent, another met a wrenching end. Matthew Centrowitz, the Broadneck High alum who won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, will miss the U.S. Olympic trials with a hamstring injury, costing him his attempt to reach his fourth and final Olympics.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be having the fairy-tale ending I was hoping for,” Centrowitz said in an X post.

Centrowitz had declared in March that 2024 would be his final year, timed for one last run in the 1,500 meters at the Paris Olympics. In recent weeks, two ailments derailed him. After racing at the Los Angeles Grand Prix in May, Centrowitz became sick and missed a week of training. When he returned, he strained his hamstring.

Centrowitz tried to recover in time for the beginning of the trials. He healed to the point where he can jog, but he said he is unable to run at a pace that would allow him to compete.

“It’s been equally difficult physically and mentally the last three weeks staying optimistic that I’d be able to still compete,” Centrowitz said. “Unfortunately, I ran out of time.”

Centrowitz still traveled to Eugene to watch the trials and support old friends. He would have seen Mu run the 800 in 2:01.73, breezing into the semifinals with a low-effort, second-place finish in her heat. “It was pretty smooth,” Mu said. “It just felt like my first race back. The legs were getting a little wake up.”

Shortly after Mu finished, Richardson made her first trials appearance since 2021, when she won the 100 meters but lost her spot after testing positive for marijuana. She won a world championship last summer, and ripped off a time of 10.88, the fastest of any qualifier.

Elsewhere, Eric Holt, the 29-year-old who quit working in an Upstate New York psych ward to pursue his Olympic dream, advanced to Saturday’s 1500 semifinals by cruising to a 3:35.86 in a fast-paced qualifying heat, the fifth-fastest time of the night.

Before the meet, Centrowitz ran into Evan Jager, a 3,000-meter steeplechase stalwart, at the airport. They reminisced about all their years competing with and against each other. “He was like, ‘You gotta do it for the old guys,' " Jaeger said, "Do it for me.’ ”

The young guys, Wilson chief among them, are not going to make it easy for them.

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