Vista Murrieta High (Murrieta, Calif.) junior Michael Norman was today named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year. The 6-foot,160-pound sprinter won the 200-meter dash with a state-record time of 20.30 seconds and the 400 in a state-record 45.19 at this month’s CIF State Track & Field Championships, breaking a 30-year-old mark in the latter while clocking the nation’s No. 1 time in the event among prep competitors in 2015. Both sprints ranked among the top 10 all-time U.S. high school performances in the 200 and 400, a feat unmatched by any other American prep in history.
Norman clocked the all-time No. 8 American Junior (Under-20) time in the 200 and owned the world No. 25 in the 200 among men of all ages in 2015 as of June 29. He’d also run the world No. 28 in the 400.The teen’s 400-meter finish at the CIF state championships was the fastest time ever recorded in the event at a meet sanctioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Norman led Vista Murrieta to the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 title as a team. Just last week, he PR’d in the 200 with a time of 20.24 to capture a silver medal at the 2015 USATF Junior National Track & Field Championships.
We sat down with Norman, 17, to better understand how he outshined 580,000 high school boys track & field athletes nationwide to win the award.
Q: You received your trophy today, gave your speech and then dashed out for a burrito-eating challenge for lunch. How’d that go and how are you feeling?
A: I’m disappointed. I thought I had a chance to win, but the thing was as long as my forearm. I ordered the softest tortilla and I went for rice and beans and carnitas because I thought that would be mushy and smaller. But they put in too much rice. The minimum for the contest was three pounds and mine was 3.5.
Q: During the season, we hear you’re really picky about diet?
A: I don’t eat junk food and soda. I drink a little Gatorade after a race because it’s so tasty. No cookies or ice cream. And a side salad with dinner at least five nights a week.
Q: In your remarks to the crowd today, you called out specific teammates for keeping the scholar-athlete schedule light-hearted and fun for you, and for keeping you grounded and not treating you like you’re special. Why was that important for you to do?
A: We’re a team. I love always having the team near me. They make practices go faster and they make me want to come to practice even more. They really make me feel like part of the group. I don’t like being in the spotlight.
Q: You’re so aw-shucks off the track, but you’re SO competitive, which is probably most evident in your closing speed. Do you just flip a switch when all the chips are down?
A: When it’s time to compete, I focus. I don’t talk as much. I don’t separate myself, but I just visualize my race. After the race, the switch goes back on and I’m my usual old self.
Q: You set the state record for sophomores in the 200 last year. As a junior, you own the 200 and 400 state records outright. High-stakes races don’t intimidate you, huh?
A: I approach every race the same. No matter what the level of competition. I’m always focused and ready to run. I don’t think about times or records. I just trust in my training and run to the best of my ability.
Q: Generally, as soon as people pay you a compliment, you talk about how much more work you have to do. Why?
A: There’s always something to improve upon. I have that drive and natural will to work harder.
Q: Former longtime state track meet director Hal Harkness has been quoted as saying he’s ‘never seen anything like you.’ That guy’s been in this business for 59 years. How does that make you feel?
A: I try not to let stuff like that get into my head. I stay true to myself and try to improve myself. I stay ‘humble, but hungry.’
Q: The California Interscholastic Federation track schedule is brutal: CIF Prelims, then CIF Finals, then Masters, then the state championships. On top of that you ran the adidas Grand Prix Dream 100, the Brooks PR 400 and USATF. You had to be gassed, and you’ll have to alter your schedule in 2016 during an Olympic Trials year, right?
A: It was a long year and I did enter a lot of those meets (purely for) the fun and the experience of a big stage like that. Next year is definitely not a year where I want to peak at the state meet. It will be much more carefully managed.