TIM HALL WAS SCOUTING the Georgia state high school track and field championships for Kentucky the first time he saw Christian Coleman.
Coleman was running for Our Lady of Mercy, a small private school outside of Atlanta. Hall noticed his terrific speed and unorthodox, forward-tilting style.
"I was like, 'Who is this kid?'" Hall says.
Coleman, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound track and football standout, already had committed to the University of Tennessee. In that May meet in 2014, he won the 100 and 200 meters, the long jump and anchored a win in the 4x100 relay in the 1A-Private division.
Hall remembers thinking, "If someone can get this kid and just clean [up his technique], he could do some very special things."
Less than four years later, Coleman has in fact turned into something special. He ran the fastest 100 meters in the world (9.82) and won four NCAA sprint championships last year.
It was all part of a momentous breakout 2017.
"What a year," Coleman wrote on Instagram on Dec. 31. He said he'd been blessed in so many ways, but already was thinking of the future. "May 2018 be even greater," he wrote. "New year, same me, same grind. Happy new year."
Happy new year, indeed.
On Feb. 18, Coleman broke the world record in the 60 meters at the U.S. Track and Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It's the second time this year he has run faster than the 6.39 record set by Maurice Greene in 1998. The first, a 6.37 in January, wasn't ratified because of the absence of electronic starting blocks.
After the January result wasn't ratified, Coleman wasn't fazed. "It just motivates me to run it again at a bigger meet and make sure that everything's in line for it to be ratified next time," he said.
Then he went 6.34 at the U.S. Indoors. He said it felt like "a blur" to run that fast. But he still believes he can go faster. At just 21 years old, Coleman's rapid arc of improvement makes him certain he's on the right trajectory. He'll get the next chance to prove it at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships, which begin Thursday in in Birmingham, England. With Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt retired, Coleman is in position to be sprinting's next king.
"I have a lot of confidence in myself that I can be one of the best," says Coleman, a soft-spoken man with a strong Christian faith. "I've been blessed with a lot of talent, and if I just continue to work hard, then I think my name will be up there with some of the best."
DAPHNE AND SETH COLEMAN knew their son was gifted at 2 years old.
"Christian was afraid of the vacuum cleaner," Daphne says, laughing. "Every time we turned the vacuum cleaner on, he would turn and run and jump real fast on the sofa. The first time he did it, my husband almost lost his mind. He was like, 'Oh my, God, did you see that?' He said he could pivot and run at the same time, and he's 2. He's like, 'People can't do that!'"
Seth, who played football in high school, told his wife how difficult it had been to learn the skill. "That's when my husband first felt like he's going to be a great athlete," Daphne says. "That was the first time he realized Christian's speed and agility, right there. He had that bounce."
Soon after, the Colemans signed up their son for a gymnastics class. In no time, he was walking on a balance beam, doing all kinds of jumps and, eventually, the rope climb. Then came a year of soccer followed by football -- in helmet and pads -- when he was 5 or 6. "They always gave Christian the ball and Christian would take off running," Daphne says.
For as long as Christian can remember, he was known as "the fast kid."
"Even at recess, in elementary school, it was just a known thing that I was one of the fastest in the school," he says.
Football became Christian's focus. He dreamed of playing at the Division I level and became a first-team all-Georgia high school defensive back for his division. With a mother as a teacher and a father as a schools communications officer, Coleman also worked to get good grades so he could go anywhere.
But with his small stature, the big schools didn't want him. Despite going to camps, working with a trainer, following his father's advice to be technically better than his peers -- and excelling -- he didn't get an offer. Daphne said her son was deeply hurt. It was then, however, that people started noticing him on the track. That's when he committed to Tennessee.
"The doors opened for him, and he realized [football] wasn't the path God had for him," Daphne says. "To see him excelling after being hurt, feeling like the schools didn't want him, I'm just so happy for him. I feel that is a piece that still drives him because I think he still has that little chip on his shoulder that, 'Those colleges didn't want me.'"
THOUGH COLEMAN'S A PROFESSIONAL NOW, his life is much the same as it was while running for the Volunteers. He still lives in Knoxville, goes to class -- finishing up a degree in sports marketing -- and hangs out with his same friends. One thing that did change? He moved out of his student apartment. "I got a nice place," Coleman says. "I bought a condo."
Otherwise, he remains the same quiet, focused guy he was in high school, where his coach, Mark Tolcher, once described him as the first one on the track and the last off it each day. Our Lady of Mercy even created the Christian Coleman Award in 2014 to give to the track athlete who makes the most special contribution to the team.
The other constant is Hall, the one-time Kentucky coach who was so taken with Coleman at that 2014 Georgia state meet. Just three months after that meet, Tennessee hired Hall as the sprint coach. He was paired with Coleman, who had picked the Vols before Hall ever saw him run.
"Once I accepted the job here, that was my goal, to teach him the things I felt could get him in a better position to run more efficiently," Hall says. That included a more upright body position.
Even after turning pro, Coleman uses Hall as his coach, and through the years they've continued to hone fundamentals. Coleman always had a strong start, but his finishes have been weaker. The focus has been to get him to relax and run more freely through the finish, to get stronger in the weight room and eat healthier.
"When you get to this level, it's so technical," Coleman says. "The thing you're working so hard for are milliseconds. Saving a 10th of a second from 9.82 to 9.72 is huge. There are a lot of things I can fix from my technique standpoint and making sure I hold my form at the end of the race, to not slow down as much as I usually do."
Hall believes Coleman will get better because of his work ethic. He's devoted to watching film and practicing. Hall says he noticed a change, too, when Coleman returned from the 2016 Olympics. Even though the U.S. 4x100 team was disqualified for a mismanaged handoff, the young runner had seen the way champions prepare and was determined to reach that level.
"It sparked something that was already in him, and he was like, 'I belong here,'" Hall says. "At that point, losing was not an option."
It was then, Hall says, that Coleman first talked about doubling in the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships -- and did it.
Now come the Indoor Worlds in England, with the Olympics two-plus years in the distance. Coleman's goal is to improve, one millisecond at a time, to get to the top. Hall says he'll get there. Already, Coleman has run the 100 meters faster than Bolt at the same age.
"He's seizing the moment," Hall says. "Every day he comes into this facility, you can tell he has this veneer, like this is my moment, this is my time and I'm going to do everything in my power to make certain I seize the moment."