The 6-foot-1, 167-pound Norman won the national title in the 200-meter dash at the USATF Junior Outdoor Championships, breaking the tape in 20.15 seconds. The clocking ranks as the third-fastest in U.S. prep history and No. 1 in 2016. It is also the sixth-fastest time by an American this year and the world No. 15 amongst men of all ages. Norman’s career-best 45.19 in the 400 is the seventh-best high school time all-time. He is the only prep boy in history who ranks in the all-time Top 10 of both the 200 and the 400. He ran a personal best in the 100-meter dash this season as well, clocking a 10.27, which is the nation’s No. 2 wind-legal time in 2016.
We sat down with Norman, 18, to better understand how he outshined more than a million boys high school track and field athletes nationwide to win the award.
Q: Last year, we spoke about how the California Interscholastic Federation track schedule is brutal: CIF Prelims, then CIF Finals, then Masters, then the state championships. We knew you’d have to ratchet back this year. How did that adjustment go in terms of your preparedness for the Olympic Trials?
A: It was difficult at times. Especially getting through the stages of CIF because people expect me to run fast all the time. It’s hard not to live up to expectations sometimes, but it’s paid off.
Q: Let’s face it, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that we haven’t seem that same burst in your 400 yet this year. That’s gotta be by design, yes?
A: Yes and no. Honestly, I feel like the only time I ran to the best of my ability so far this year was at the Arcadia Invitational in April (where he clocked a season-best 45.51). It’s been tough balancing the plan to not push too hard too soon and still peak at the right time. I feel like I have a PR coming.
Q: Your coach has referred to you as the Kobe Bryant of track and field. How do you even get your head around that?
A: What a huge compliment. Being compared to him is really tough. He’s the basketball icon of a generation. He played for 20 years. I’d love to last that long.
Q: When you run for USC next season, your sprint coach will be Quincy Watts, whose prep personal bests in the 100 and 200 in 1987 were 10.36 and 20.99. You’re already faster than he was then, and he went on to win an Olympic gold medal in the 400 in 1992. Is that an omen?
A: Maybe. Having him as not only a coach but as a mentor is huge for me. He’s going to get me to the right place as a track athlete. Coach Caryl (Smith Gilbert) is also so great. I don’t know what it is, but she always gets me so fired up to run. It feels like family there.
Q: You’ve been quizzed about how you feel when fellow competitors and bye-standers ask to pose for photos with you and you’ve said: ‘I just ran a high school track meet. I don’t feel big.’ You now have the world No. 15 time in the 200-meter dash among men of all ages. Are you feeling any bigger yet?
A: Wow, I didn’t even know that. Um, I guess I feel like a high school graduate now, but honestly nothing beyond that. I have a lot of work to do and a lot more to learn in my career. I’m just the same person I was as a freshman. Just making the most of every moment I have.
Q: It’s not secret you possess extraordinary range from the 100 to the 200 to the 400. Your season-best wind-legal times rank No. 2 (100), No. 1 (200) and No. 1 (400) among U.S. prep sprinters this year. If you had the time to train exclusively for it, which event would you run if your life depended on winning?
A: [Long pause]. I’d say, even though the 400 is a more difficult race, I think my speed is best suited for that race rather than the 100. I think race strategy and conditioning are the areas where there’s room for improvement for me in that race. But my natural skill set matches that race best.
Q: This seems like a safe assumption, but you’re running the 400 at the Olympic Trials, correct?
A: I’m running both the 200 and the 400. I definitely considered the physical demands of potentially running three rounds in each event, but my coach reminded me I’ve raced in multiple events on back-to-back days at CIF. I think the four days between the two events at Trials (400 dash comes first) is reasonable.
Q: The only other person to win Gatorade’s national track award twice was a skinny girl from Ventura County named Marion Jones. We’re into our fourth decade of the award and you’re the only boy to do this. How does that feel?
A: It’s a huge accomplishment and a huge honor. Coming back to win this for a second year in a row was a big surprise. I wasn’t really even sure I’d contend for the state award because of how scaled back my schedule has been. I really am speechless.