NBC track and field analyst Lewis Johnson – with a flair for the dramatic – called Tamari Davis “the fastest 14-year-old girl in the history of the planet.”
And he’s right.
Davis, a native of Gainesville, Fla., is a middle-school kid who won’t even turn 15 until February.
She has never lifted any weights, and she often falls behind early in her signature races, the 100 and 200 meters.
Yet, she runs down her opponents, has the age-group world record for 200 meters, and she doesn’t lack for confidence.
“I want to compete in the 2020 Olympics,” said Davis, who attends Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville.
Earlier this year, Davis ran a 23.38 in the 200, breaking the world record for 14-year-olds which had been set in 1999 by Angel Perkins.
Then, on May 26 in Eugene, Oregon, Davis did it again.
Competing against a field of elite high school girls, Davis sprinted down the stretch in lane two to win the race and set a new age-group world record with her time of 23.21. That time also was the second-fastest for any girl under age 18 in the world this year, behind only Jamaician Kevona Davis, who ran 23.07 on April 1.
TV cameras captured the look on Davis’ face after she had crossed the line, and she was clearly shocked at what she had just accomplished. She used her left hand to cover her mouth, presumably to keep her jaw from dropping.
And after turning her back on the scoreboard, she turned around again, just to make sure her eyes did not deceive her.
One of the girls she beat in that race was Miami Southridge senior Symone Mason, a 17-year-old who was considered the top high school sprinter in the nation this year with the best times in the 100 and 200 meters.
Mason, who has a track scholarship to the University of Miami this fall, said she was impressed by Davis.
“She is a great and elite athlete, especially for her age,” Mason said. “I’m excited to see how far she will get.”
Davis said she loves everything about being a young a track star, including traveling around the country, competing against other elite athletes and, of course, getting gold medals.
She has won so often that there is barely room in her house for the spoils of victory. There are trophies just about everywhere – on walls, on top of two TVs and on a stand in the hallway.
“I love winning,” she said. “But if I lose, I keep my head up and wait for the next race.”
Much of what happens next will be dictated by Gary Evans, who has coached her since she was 7.
Evans, who now runs Empire Athletics, was with the Gainesville Striders when Davis started showing up at the track. But she was only there because her brother, Desmond, who is three years her senior, was running track.
“One day,” said their mother, Tamara Davis, “she said she wanted to run track.”
Davis’ parents obliged, and, toward the end of that first year in track, something amazing happened.
While competing in a Junior Olympics event in Virginia, Davis started slowly and was in last place out of eight girls halfway through the race.
Then Davis, as has become her custom, turned on her internal jets. She finished third, which – considering her poor start – shocked her parents.
She hasn’t lost many races since.
“It’s mostly God-given,” her mother said. “(Evans) has tweaked some things and pulled out what she already had. But I would say it’s her natural talent.”
Even at 14, Davis’ exploits have already exceeded the accomplishments of her brother, who plays high school basketball, and her parents, who ran track in high school.
Then again, Davis has raced past most athletes, especially those her age.
Evans has compared Davis to Allyson Felix, an American sprinter who has won six Olympic gold medals and three silver medals.
What makes Davis so special?
“Her turnover and her quick ground contact are what drew me to her,” said Evans, who has trained pro track athletes.
Davis, who has a personal best of 11.55 in the 100, only runs three times a week as Evans is determined not to overwork her.
“This is a child we’re dealing with,” Evans said. “We get tons of invites (from track meets), but we don’t take every one.
“Right now, Tamari is running off natural ability. I want that when she gets to high school and college there will be room for improvement.”
The Davis family has not yet picked a high school for her, but her mother said Gainesville High and Oak Hall are the two that are being considered.
Evans said he expects Davis to hit a proverbial wall at some point. And, he said, when that happens, she will have been prepared and will push through.
“There’s no way,” Evans said, “that her times can continue to drop by as much as they have.”
Davis will, for the first time, start training with weights twice a week.
That program will begin in October.
“I’m very excited,” Davis said. “I finally get to do weights. I will be able to power off the blocks and be stronger in my races.”
Davis’ brilliant speed at the end of the races coupled with a stronger start should make for a terrifying prospect for her opponents.
Mason, who came back to beat Davis in a 100-meter race last weekend in Boston, has been a highly rated runner for a few years.
Having successfully navigated through high school – on and off the track – Mason was asked how she would advise Davis to proceed for the next four years.
“I would just tell her not to get sidetracked with social media and other stuff,” Mason said.
“She’s still in middle school. She hasn’t experienced high school yet. I’ve seen a lot of other really good female athletes get sidetracked in high school.”
Davis said all she does on social media is post track and field photos.
“I won’t get involved in drama,” she said. “I’m not interested in all that crazy stuff in high school.”
Davis, who earned all A’s except for a B-plus this year, seems to be bound for glory … if she can stay clear of those hurdles.
“She is a special talent – the type that comes along once every 10 years,” Evans said. “If she continues to improve, I believe she will one day be wearing a USA uniform.”