Michael Norman’s counters are covered with empty water bottles that track his daily intake.
His journal is filled with logs of carbohydrates and proteins consumed, the power clears and scoops are removed, and reps are completed.
His mind is the definition of one-track. A self-described restaurant, car lover and thrill seeker who once rode a Jet Ski from Long Beach to Catalina and Back, Norman is the same person who recently stopped when asked how he makes up his mind for his work, he says he still is. trying to figure that out.
In 2013, a freshman at Vista Murrieta High, Norman stunned his parents by sharing his goal with a sprint at the Olympics – just three years later. He did not play those Games. But his father, Michael, recalled the promise as a hinged moment in his son ‘s life, when he was committed to an all – consuming search for the information and improvement that Norman, now 24, believes he will one of the fastest people to ever cover. 400 meters and stands at the top of the race and the most impressive podiums in the park.
That’s why, in the months leading up to next week’s US championship in Eugene, Ore.
The runner who is trying to get answers can only give a few people to explain why last season went so wrong.
Among the Olympics in Tokyo where US men’s sprinters struggled unabated to win a medal, Norman was one of the biggest mysteries. The 400-meter US champion and favorite in Tokyo, he faded to fifth in 44.31 seconds, nine-tenths of a second slower than his personal best. He said his struggles began long before he started that race in an unfamiliar lane, eight, and ended in an unfamiliar style, as if he was pulling an invisible weight over the final 150 meters.
“The first two or three hours after the race was probably the hardest moment in Tokyo for me,” Norman said. “I remember sitting on a drug test and I was chased. It was heartbreaking, [a] a devastating moment for me.
“I can’t tell you exactly what happened last year. I start my first day of practice and have just been struggling since Day 1. I do not know why. My mind wants me to work extremely hard and get up exercising but my body was not responding or working. I felt disconnected, as I was not in my body. It was like the weirdest feeling of the year. ”
While Norman’s mother, Nobue Saito Norman, was traveling to native Japan to watch the Olympics, his father watched television from Florida at a party organized by one of the Norman sponsors. They don’t talk much on race days, other than a text message or two reminding Norman to have fun, so his father didn’t know exactly how his son felt before the Olympics final. He realized the same thing when he did not see the two most recognizable characteristics of his son, his speed or his smile.
“He is not afraid of any situation,” said the father, “but when he arrived in Tokyo last year, I knew it was not him. He doesn’t even hear himself because he usually laughs. He was extremely serious and you knew he didn’t have it. But I’ll give it to him, he put it on the line. ”
The day after finishing in fifth place, Norman met his coach Quincy Watts, a former 400-meter coach and USC coach, who told him not to let the disappointment wait for the 1,600-meter relay still offering a gold opportunity. When Norman closed strongly by passing two leaders over the final 150 meters, his 44-second seconds finally gave the US a big lead and gold – yet for Norman, there was little consolation.
“A great moment for us,” Norman said, “but it was like mixed emotions for me. It’s like, I got a gold medal but also failed at the same time. How do I really feel now? “
Norman was reminded by his parents that he had joined a small club of gold medal winners. His father hopes that the achievement will increase his esteem over time.
“It gives that gold medal a ‘participation base’,” said his father. “He did not set his mind on silver or bronze, but he set his mind on it [400-meter] gold and when he failed to achieve it, it was very destructive. ”
Eight months since Norman returned from Tokyo is full of “every emotion,” he said in May, between disappointment, frustration and jealousy. And recently, something else: a return to his smile and speed.
In late May, two months before the world championships were held for the first time on US soil, a match equal in quality to the Olympics, Norman won the Prefontaine Classic in 43.60, destroying one of the best pitches of the year on track wet. in his fastest time since receiving his personal best of 43.45 in 2019. Former Games gold medalist Michael Johnson, who translated his record with Norman, praised Norman. “Master class” race on Twitter.
“This is the first race this year where I felt the hard work and discipline and consistency that I was working on this year is going on,” Norman said.
It was the return to rhythm that Normans know well in spite of his youth, the attendance-return pattern that defined his career.
One week after reaching high school in 2016 as the national record holder at 400 meters, Norman defeated Olympic player Justin Gatlin three times in the 200 at the Olympic and field trials. His encore went against expectations – finishing fourth in the NCAA championships to end a freshman season at the USC that he said was hampered by injuries and the transfer to college.
The following year, he broke the collegiate record of 400 and was named the best man and field college athlete. In 2019, his first year as a professional, he failed to qualify for the 400m final of the world championship while nursing a hamstring injury. He started coaching 2020 as “I thought I was on fire.” Then a pandemic ended the season.
What makes this version of return different, he said, is that he had a clear answer in the past about what went wrong, but he did not provide that clarity last year.
“Something didn’t click,” said Dunford Rodill, an athletics coach who has been working with Norman since 2016. “And I think it was a mystery to everyone.”
Norman did not run with 400 in 2020 and said he had lost some of his “feeling” for a long time last year. A Norman father said his son moved twice last year, lost some practice time due to close contact with COVID and minor injuries, but admitted that after watching his first race, something made insurmountable sense. in 2021. Norman’s US title inspired a celebration; the winning time, less than that.
At the Olympics, there were “a lot of mental things too; a lot of pressure, ”said his father. He had made a backstory for prime time that seemed ready to send him to mainstream exposure with a win. Norman’s mother was one of the best teenage sprinters in Japan growing up southwest of Tokyo.
Without a clear understanding of what needed to be fixed, Norman and Watts chose a “back to basics” training strategy, Rodill said. Norman said he has become even more enthusiastic. It adds a list of restaurants in Los Angeles that he wants to try. He longs to dive into the sky for the first time. But both interests, he knows, have to wait until the end of their season.
“He is committed to doing what is under his control to achieve his goals,” Rodill said. “Commitment, that’s the biggest thing.”
A Norman father said: “Within the first month of the fall exercise he said, ‘I feel better than I did all year last year.’ And it’s starting to show. ”
When it was a challenge for a Norman last year to complete 10 pull – ups, he said this year that he is regularly finishing a set of 15 with the added weight. In another key indicator of his strength, the back-squat, he improved his maximum repetition by 50 pounds.
In early June, Norman remained the only man in the world to score 44 seconds this season, which added to his popularity among the candidates who claimed the individual gold on outside world championship or Olympic stage that made it impossible. After praising the performance of Norman’s Prefontaine Classic, Johnson write later he and 100 meter winner Trayvon Bromell were great but “they still have winning performances at the championships. Another opportunity to change that this summer. ”
Norman makes no comment on Johnson, saying that his only concern is to hear Watts’ thoughts.
“I will forever remember the feelings and emotions I went through at the Olympics and after the Olympics, even during fall training the following year, until I get another shot, another chance,” said Norman.
At the Prefontaine Classic, when a representative from the forthcoming Summer Olympics in Paris handed a Norman letterhead, a marker and a request to write a message to his own in 2024, he quickly wrote where other athletes were on pause, saying that he knew what should be written. He smiled as he touched the paper, whose first line he emphasized three times.
Remember 202one. Have fun too.