Sprinting / The Also-ran Aims for Gold

The remarkable 200-meter run by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and his mind-boggling world record which he set at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin naturally attracted a host media attention. Yet it's Bolt's runner-up from that race, Alonso Edward of Panama, whose 19.81 finish in the race is an all-time best for sprinters from Central and South America, who has observers buzzing.

When taking into consideration the fact that Edward - who just recently celebrated his 20th birthday - was only 19 years old, one can marvel, especially when comparing his progress to that of Bolt.

When the Jamaican champion was the same age as Edward, he clocked in at "just" 19.88 seconds in the 200-meter competition. Sprinting fans may begin to fantasize about a two-man rivalry in the 200-meters, though the question remains: Is it far-fetched to envision Edward overtaking Bolt?

"I believe that if I claim that Alonso can beat Bolt in the future, it's going make me sound like an arrogant and petulant child," said Matt Kane, Edward's coach, who many credit with contributing mightily to his protege's success. "However, I think that anything can happen in the next three or four years."

Kane is a man who is worth listening to when considering his resume. Prior to taking on Edward, he coached Tyson Gay, the world champion in the 100- and 200-meters and, until Bolt's record-breaking performance, held the title of world's fastest man. Kane also tutored Veronica Campbell, the five-time Olympic champion from Jamaica.

"In April, Alonso ran a college race in 20.40," Kane said. "By the way he finished, and where he was at in his training, actually made me say to a colleague that I thought he would run 19.8 or 19.9. Of course he called me an idiot."

It was in Berlin, where he finished an impressive second to Bolt, that Edward turned some heads.

"What was more important," Kane added, "was the fact that he was able to produce the time when it mattered. I think that any time you can be compared to Bolt is a good thing, and what's best is that if Alonso can continue to get those comparisons throughout his career ... his career is going be a successful one."

Edward said he was happy with the numbers he got.

"When I crossed the finish line in Berlin, what impacted me mostly was the second place, because I had worked very hard to obtain that medal," Edward said. "Then, when I saw the time of 19.81, I felt even more touched, because the greatness of the time let me know that if I continue going in this direction, I can obtain even bigger things. Yet, when I found out about the value of the stats, it felt good to be faster than Bolt at some stage."

Although he was born and grew up in Panama, Edward's mother is Jamaican. Both of his parents were sprinters, thus it is not difficult to understand where he inherited his speed.

Nonetheless, Panama, a tiny Central American country with limited opportunities and serious fiscal restraints, discovered Edward only when he was 16 years old. His gym teacher in high school was amazed at the breathtaking speed with which he ran.

Edward was sent to compete in a regional competition, and within six months he had captured the South American Youth Championships in Caracas.

Though his progress was stunted by an injury, he traveled to the United States where he underwent training to prepare for the 2008 World Junior Championships in Poland. It was there that he met Kane.

"Finding him was a blessing," said Edward. "Matt is the best coach in the United States, and his knowledge has brought me to a point where I never thought I would be."

The partnership has yielded tremendous benefits for Edward. Last year, he easily won the 100- and 200-meter competitions in the South American Championships. In Berlin, he became the youngest sprinter to ever capture a medal at the World Championships.

Given that 2010 will feature neither an Olympics competition nor a World Championship, Kane and Edward will focus on next summer's Diamond League, sprinting's successor to the Golden League.

The series will feature head-to-head races between competitors who will vie for prize money totaling $6.63 million.

Kane said Edward needs to build more muscle mass and improve his running in the first 40 meters in order to seriously compete for the top slot.