One way to gauge where a sport stands in importance across the U.S. is how often it is discussed on the parade of television sports talk shows, such as ESPN’s “Around the Horn” or “Pardon the Interruption.”
Track & field is almost never mentioned, except maybe during the Olympic Games, which ESPN does not televise. But on Monday, these shows – and others – were suddenly foaming at the mouth over a 19-year-old senior from Houston’s Strake Jesuit High School, Matthew Boling.
After exploding into the consciousness of track fans at the Texas Relays, where he ran a wind-aided 10.20 and long jumped 8.01 m (26-3 1/2) to move to no. 8 on the all-time U.S. high school list, he dominated the 6A division of the Texas State Meet:
● He won the 100 m in 10.13, the best-on-record in a high school-only meet;
● He won the long jump at 25-4 1/2 (wind-aided) and,
● Ran a sensational 44.74 on the anchor of the 4×400 m relay to help Strake Jesuit to a nation-leading 3:10.56 victory.
He had run a wind-aided 9.98 two weeks before (+4.2 m/s), the fastest all-conditions high school 100 m ever. And he is Caucasian, with the nickname of “White Lightning.” So now he’s being called a future Carl Lewis!
Well, let’s hold on for a moment and see how Boling actually measures up.
As for the comparisons to Lewis, it’s a little early. As a prep at Willingboro (New Jersey) High School in 1979, Lewis was primarily a long jumper, with the top six jumps in the nation in 1979, and a best of 26-8. He barely ran the sprints, with a best of 9.5 for 100 yards and 20.9 for the 220. Two years later, he was the top sprinter in the world at 10.00 and the world’s top jumper at 28-3 1/2.
So let’s wait a few more minutes before making that comparison again.
How about his much-cited “national record” of 10.13? The mark is excellent, coming against high school competition – which is where the national record talk comes in – but it’s hardly the fastest ever by a prep; in fact, it moves him to no. 4 on the all-time high school list, with the equal-fifth-fastest performance. The all-time high school 100 m performances list, per Track & Field News:
1. 10.00 Trentavis Friday (Cherryville NC) ‘14
2. 10.01 Jeff Demps (Groveland FL South Lake) ‘08
3. 10.09 Anthony Schwartz (Plantation FL American Heritage) ‘18
4. 10.12 Demps ‘08
5. 10.13 Derrick Florence (Galveston TX Ball) ‘86
5. 10.13 Schwartz ‘18
5. 10.13 Matthew Boling (Houston TX Strake) ‘19
8. 10.14 Noah Lyles (Alexandria VA Williams) ‘15
9. 10.15 Henry Neal (Greenville TX) ‘90
9. 10.15 Schwartz ‘17
Look at the list closely. You’ll see another runner who ran even faster than Boling just last year: Anthony Schwartz. What about him?
Schwartz and Boling were actually teammates on last summer’s U.S. team for the World Junior Championships in Tampere (FIN). Schwartz was the U.S. Junior Champion in the 100 m (10.23) and won the silver medal at the World Juniors in 10.22. He had races of 10.07w, 10.09, 10.13, 10.13w and 10.16, among others, and won a 4×100 m relay gold in Finland.
Boling was known as a quarter-miler last season, with a best of 46.15, and after finishing sixth in the U.S. Junior meet, ran a leg in the heats of the 4×400 m, earning a silver medal when the U.S. team in the final finished second.
Schwartz is attending Auburn, where he played quite a bit as a freshman wide receiver in football, and ran a season best of 10.21 last weekend for sixth in the SEC Championships. That’s worth noting since Boling will be running against him next season as a prize recruit for Georgia.
All of this says that Boling is an outstanding prospect, but any Olympic dreams are some distance away, at least for now.
In fact, his most outstanding performance was not the 100 m or the long jump, but his come-from-way behind anchor leg on the 4×400 m relay, timed in 44.74. That was impressive, really impressive, especially for someone with a seasonal best of 47.23 and a lifetime best of 46.15.
Boling’s future may not be in the 100 m at all, but in the 200 or the 400, based on that superb relay leg, but that’s in the future.
He’s clearly the best high school sprinter in the country, and we may get to know a lot more about him if he competes in the U.S. Junior Championships once again; this year’s meet is in Miramar, Florida on 21-23 June and there are Pan American Junior Championships available to the top finishers in Costa Rica in July.
Or he might tantalize us all by running in the U.S. Nationals in Des Moines at the end of July. It would be a long season for Boling, but the rewards could be worth it. It’s not likely that he would qualify as a member of the U.S. team for the World Championships in Doha (QAT) – although not impossible – but if he made the 100 m semis, or the long jump final, he could find himself on the U.S. team for the Pan American Games in Lima (PER) at the beginning of August. After all, didn’t Lewis win the Pan Am long jump bronze in 1979?
That would be quite an end to a brilliant high school career that has drawn the attention of news media who rarely pay the slightest attention to track & field.
They are paying some attention now, and that his race is noticed is a mark against those who mention it. Let’s hope that Boling himself recognizes that he has the opportunity to be part of athletic experiences that only a precious few can have, and that he is allowed to enjoy it.