COLUMBIA — Missouri freshman sprinter Markesh Woodson thought about nothing in the two seconds that felt like two minutes. Not the crowd. Not the competition. Not the cameras.
He was too busy listening.
Patiently, Woodson waited for the sound of the starting gun. His green light. He felt completely relaxed in the moments leading up to the race.
“I don’t know how to get nervous,” Woodson says.
The time between “runners to your mark” and the sound of the starting gun felt like an eternity.
At last, he heard it.
Woodson and six other sprinters exploded off the starting blocks, toward the finish line ahead.
In the finals of the 60-meter dash at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships earlier this month in Fayetteville, Ark., Woodson was a blur. He finished fifth, sprinting the 60-meter in 6.66 seconds. The top-eight finishers were named All-Americans.
Each of the four sprinters who finished ahead of Woodson were seniors, on their last year of eligibility. Mississippi State's D'Angelo Cherry won in 6.54 seconds.
After the race, Missouri assistant coach Kareem Streete-Thompson searched for Woodson in the sea of coaches and runners gathered near the finish line. But the freshman was nowhere to be found.
“You would think he’d be walking around pretty happy,” Streete-Thompson said.
He continued to search, hoping to congratulate his sprinter on an All-American performance. Finally, Streete-Thompson walked to the back exit of Randal Tyson Track and pushed open the door.
There was Woodson outside, silently fuming over his fifth-place finish.
With spring and the outdoor season beginning, Woodson says he has mostly gotten over the disappointment he felt at the indoor championships.
“I wasn’t satisfied, but as time progressed I just learned to live with it,” he said. “I’m proud and not proud at the same time.”
He hopes to channel his lingering frustration to good use in the upcoming outdoor season.
As he spoke about his goals recently, Woodson couldn’t resist taking a playful swipe at Streete-Thompson, the Tigers' sprints coach and three-time Olympian.
“I definitely want to run faster than him,” Woodson said, looking at his coach.
Both men erupted in laughter.
This is one side of Woodson, Streete-Thompson explained — the easy-going college freshman, the happy-go-lucky teammate, the person people see on the surface.
But there is also Woodson the competitor.
“Deep down inside there is a fire,” Streete-Thompson said.
Woodson’s desire at the indoor championships impressed Streete-Thompson. He saw a will to win that cannot be taught.
Throughout the indoor track season, Woodson kept one lesson in mind: “Treat the 60-meter like you could keep going.”
“If you’re running the 60-meter a certain way, when you get outside you almost have to re-learn how to run the 100-meter,” Streete-Thompson said. “It’s one of the most fundamental mistakes sprinters make.”
Woodson understands he won’t be able to sneak up on the competition this time. The element of surprise vanished completely when the freshman earned All-American honors at the NCAA indoor meet.
But it's not like Woodson to think about that. He doesn't know how to get nervous.