Devon Allen and playing a dual role in professional sports

The first World Championships in Athletics held in the United States (starting July 15, in Eugene, Oregon), will also highlight where athletics stands in terms of popularity in a country where franchise sports reign.

The world championships began in Helsinki in 1983 and American athletes have featured prominently in each of the 17 editions held so far. The United States has surpassed the medal count in 13 editions. Yet it took almost 40 years for athletics’ biggest competition outside the Olympics to give its most influential stars a chance to bask on their own turf.

Eugene’s Hayward Field will be an ideal venue for the meet as it is considered the spiritual home of American athletics. Bringing the encounter here will be somewhat like the Greek organizers throwing a beautiful opening ceremony at the 330 BC Panathinaikos stadium, to a concept by the late Oscar-winning music composer Vangelis before the 1997 edition. It was as if to tell the bosses world sportsmen what they missed by not awarding the 1996 Centennial Olympics to Greece and instead giving it to Atlanta.

Devon Allen, for his part, will aim more for the revolution when it comes to modern professional sports. One of the top contenders for the 110m hurdles title, Allen, will be there to prove that even in the ultra-competitive world of professional sports, you can excel in two sports at the same time. High hurdles carry enough risk of injury, but the 27-year-old also signed a lucrative contract as a wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League (NFL).

Straight-line speed, power, strength, and determination are qualities that hurdles and the wide receiver should possess in abundance. Allen, while aiming for the world title of fellow countryman Grant Holloway, is confident he can double up. The NFL season runs from September to January while World Athletics begins with the indoor season in March and continues through August.

“I would say I’m just a great athlete. I bet if I had played tennis 15 years ago, I would be a professional tennis player, or golfer, whatever,” he told reporters after winning the Diamond League in Oslo. in June. “I like to do a lot of sports. It’s really hard to be good at anything at this level.

Two days after Oslo he also won the Paris Diamond League, showing that his time of 12.84 seconds, the third fastest time ever in the 110m hurdles, to beat Holloway at the New York Grand Prix was not A random. He qualified only third at the US Nationals in Eugene, but can be expected to be in fine form through the fortnight at the Worlds.

While a career that combines a top track with crisp football strikes is too risky, Allen has shown no signs of fatigue so far and is confident to handle both seasons. He finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics and returned to a sport he played while attending college in Oregon six years ago.

“The most important thing for me when it comes to football is that I’m fast enough and strong enough as an athlete, I just have to start doing football stuff, running routes, catching balls of football.”

For now, he’s been training with the Eagles for four days and switching to track work on holidays on the weekends.

“It made me more relaxed and kind of focused me on what I’m doing…football and track, trying to balance the two, I had to be very careful about my recovery, my sleep, my diet, just like that,” he said last month.

MIX THEM

An internet search of two sports that can be combined gives two very interesting results in mind, chess boxing and circle football. In the first, the rivals alternate between a round of boxing and a game of blitz chess until one wins, by knockout or checkmate. The other is much less bruising, a six-man tournament played with a large sphere that looks more like a balance ball, with players essentially free to kick, dribble, carry or throw in a game including four 15-minute players. quarters.

The next two, however, show football (the NFL variety) and track and field (track and field) as well as basketball and volleyball.

Allen won’t be alone at the world championships, however. Erriyon Knighton, 18, who clocked 19.79 seconds to finish second in the US national meet and qualify behind world champion Noah Lyles, went from a thriving career in grid football to track due to the disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic.

The 6-foot-3 Knighton from Tampa, Fla., has personal bests of 10.04 seconds and 19.49 seconds in sprints. His time over the longest distance is a U-20 world record and the fourth fastest of all time, only behind top Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Yohann Blake and former American great Michael Johnson.

Knighton started as a catcher for the Hillsborough High School team in Tampa. His football coach advised him to sharpen his sprinting skills and the pandemic that halted the season only pushed him further in athletics. A sponsorship deal with adidas in January 2021 turned the 16-year-old into a professional and thus made him ineligible for scholarships.

But qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, where he was the youngest American athlete since long-distance runner Jim Ryun in 1964, helped him set his sights. He won his semi-final and finished fourth in the final in Japan, meaning the man who bettered Bolt’s U-18 world mark seven times in the build-up to Tokyo can make a splash in Eugene.

“It could have turned out differently if the high school season was still on. I probably would have still played football if I had that extra year,” he told BBC Sport.

Juggling between athletics and American football has a history.

In the 1980s, Renaldo Nehemiah, the world record holder in the 110m hurdles, transitioned to playing professionally as a catcher for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL. With athletics open to professionals, Nehemiah returned after four seasons, although he did not reach the heights of old in the high hurdles.

Bolt, the world record holder in the 100m and 200m who retired with eight Olympic gold medals and 11 at the world championships, tried to become a footballer. The man responsible for rekindling global interest in athletics, tried unsuccessfully to switch to football after his track career ended, coming closest to a contract in Australia’s A-League.

Sara R. Cicero