Quincy Wilson is no superhero, but at 16, he’s making magic at Olympic trials

EUGENE, Ore. — Just in case you were wondering, Quincy Wilson isn’t working with the benefit of vibranium. His purple kit inspired by the movie “Black Panther,” though, suggests some Wakanda abilities, especially after another jaw-dropping performance.

“No, it’s just me inside of it,” Wilson said, flashing a most-Cheshire grin.

His extraordinary capabilities may not be attributable to a potent fictional metal from the Africa of the Marvel Universe. But something is clearly special about this 16-year-old from Maryland.

Such was so blatantly true in Sunday’s semifinal of the men’s 400 meters. Wilson, the phenom from Bullis High, stole the show with a stunning time relative to his age. He ran the 400 in 44.59 seconds, the fastest time ever by an American 18 or younger.

It was his own record because on Saturday his 400-meter time of 44.66 broke the 18-and-under mark set by Darrell Robinson of Tacoma, Wash., in 1982.

He finished third in his heat, so he didn’t get one of the automatic qualifying spots to Monday night’s final. But with the fourth-best time of the semifinals, he easily earned one of the nine spots. A top-three finish Monday would mean Wilson has to delay driver’s training, and thus his license, because he’d be going to Paris.

“I’ve never been this happy a day in my life when it came to track,” Wilson said. “I’ve been working for this moment. That record that I broke two days ago … that’s 42 years of nobody being able to break that record. And I broke it twice in two days.”

The special sauce of Wilson, beyond just his obvious talent, is the kid’s heart.

At 5-foot-9 with adolescent muscles, he’s small compared to the fully grown men surrounding him. His form can be wonky, as you’d expect from a rising junior. His inexperience at this level gives his opponents a notable advantage.

But Wilson runs fearlessly. He empties his tank, embraces the pain. He believes enough to keep battling. Every meter. Every step. Every moment. He has a natural audaciousness. He’s aware enough to understand this, the history he’s making, but manages the steel to take it on.

His heart filled Hayward Field on Sunday.

Bryce Deadmon is 6-foot-3 and 27 years old. He’s an Olympic champ, a world champ, a two-time national champ. And he had inside position on the teenager as they rounded the second curve. On the other side of Wilson was Vernon Norwood, a 6-foot-2 seasoned professional who was winning NCAA titles when Wilson was knee-high to a grasshopper.

“Someone at 16 years old,” Wilson said, supposing the mindset of mere mortal teens, “they’re most likely to get scared when they go (against) big competitors. Vernon (Norwood) is 32 years old. I’m 16. I’m half his age. So I’m just running for my life.”

Imagine the juxtaposition of worlds he’s inhabited in the month of June. In high school, he’s untouchable. He breaks records just by lacing up his spikes. He’s signed an NIL deal with New Balance. He can run with the confidence of knowing he’s the man in his age group.

Then came the final turn of Sunday’s 400 meters. He was in fifth place heading into the final 100. He looked to be spent. His storybook was about to end valiantly. Because where would he get the conviction to push against so many accomplished vets?

His first-round blast was impressive enough. The semifinals were the reality check that was always coming.

But Wilson pushed back against such a notion. The youngster didn’t concede. He dug deeper. He stayed attached. Whatever his race plan was, it was gone by that moment. The new plan was his heart.

Quincy Wilson, left, races in Sunday’s 400-meter semifinals. He broke his own record for his age group, set one day earlier, to qualify for Monday’s final. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

He found more in his reserves, passing both Judson Lincoln of Virginia Tech and Jenoah McKiver from Florida.

“Stay calm,” Wilson said he told himself. “I didn’t get out the way I wanted to. But like my coach said, ‘The race starts at 300.’ You look at Vernon’s interviews. He said, ‘I’ma see you at 300.’ Coming from fifth to third, it means a lot. Because if you look at me, I’m not as strong. But that’s 100 percent heart.”

Monday is the biggest final of his life. The stakes keep escalating. His life could change even more dramatically than it has already should he finish in the top 3.

It sounds like a tall order. It feels too much to ask. But watching him means knowing it’s on the table. Wilson has a force of will about him, reservoirs to tap into, a comfort in the moments.

Afterward, he may speak about what he’s doing with the giddiness of a teenager hopped up on Junior Mints after seeing a good action movie. His grin beams brighter when he talks about the love he’s gotten from Noah Lyles and Sha’Carri Richardson, reminding you he’s still an impressionable young man.

“I’m on the world’s biggest final coming up tomorrow,” he said, his eyes his exclamation points. “At 16 years old! I’m like ecstatic right now.”

But on the track, he’s far less innocent. He’s a concoction of toughness and appreciation, work ethic and humility, awe and audacity. He’s a high school superstar with the world at his fingertips. He’s also the son of a military family who’s lived in six states, a family of athletes that knows all about grind, sacrifice and focus.

“The first thing when I got off the track,” Wilson said after Sunday’s race, “my coach told me he’s extremely proud of me. He was telling me the things we’ve got to do to break down the race. He’s not caught up in the moment, and with that on my side, I think I have great things for (Monday). I can’t wait for (the final).”

Wilson said he’s got a new kit for Monday, too. It doesn’t have to be Wakanda-inspired. He doesn’t need vibranium. He’s already made of the right stuff.



Noah Lyles wins men’s 100m at U.S. Olympic track trials

(Top photo of Quincy Wilson during Sunday’s 400-meter semifinals: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

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