For Quincy Wilson, teenage track prodigy, everything's different now — Olympics or not

Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.

EUGENE, Ore. — Quincy Wilson really wants to get his driver’s license.

He’ll reach 16 years and six months, Maryland’s minimum age, in a couple of weeks. He has to take a driver education course consisting of 30 hours in class and six hours of instruction behind the wheel. Upon completion, he can take his driving test.

“The next thing he wants to do,” his coach Joe Lee said, “is get his driver’s ed, to be honest with you.”

Quincy Wilson really wants to play video games.

These U.S. Olympic track and field trials have consumed his focus. He hasn’t been able to throw on a headset, grab a controller and get busy on “Call of Duty: Warzone.” With his homies, of course.

“We gon’ play when I get home,” he said. “I can’t wait to get on the game. I haven’t been on the game. They’ve all been calling me, ‘When you’re done, are you gonna get on the game?’ Yes, I’m gonna get on the game.”

Quincy Wilson wants some ice cream.

He’s been abstaining from sweets. And since it’s been a while, he knows that scoop of cookies and cream is going to be incredible.

“I really don’t eat too much when it comes to junk food,” he said. “I mean, it’s good when you eat it once. But if you keep eating it, it doesn’t taste as good.”

These last two months or so have been unrelentingly assiduous for Wilson. First, he was consumed with showing well at the New Balance Nationals, plotting a course to these trials. Then, the past week, fully locked in on the trials, all his energy aimed at Paris.

Life as a teenager awaits his return. But it won’t be the same. It can’t be, now that he’s a national celebrity.

Millions watched him impressively run with giants in these trials. Millions appreciated his talent, his resilience, his potential. You don’t just go back to being a regular teenager after that. Not with Deion Sanders and Tyreek Hill showing you love. Not when Snoop Dogg wants to meet you.

Perhaps that’s part of why his coach was in tears after Monday’s 400-meter final, his prodigy coming .53 seconds short of his Olympic dreams. Lee, who coaches at Bullis School in Maryland, no doubt wanted this badly for Wilson, for the teen to reap the ultimate reward for his massive sacrifice of normalcy. But Lee knows everything is different now.

Wilson has the markings of a pure soul. His smile still comes naturally. His charm is still boyish. His voice still sings with innocence. His eyes still dream. It’s part of why people have gravitated toward him.

His coach usually preaches there’s no crying in track. But he was “doing the Michael Jordan (crying) meme” because he knows what fame and expectation and society can do to people. To teenagers. Wilson’s pure heart was revealed through all this.

“If you knew the pressure and the weight of what he’s had to endure,” Lee said. “And he’s done it with a smile on his face. I’ve got to give credit to his parents for raising just such an amazing kid. If you know the kid. … I know him. We talk every single day, multiple times a day. It’s some stuff he’s had to endure that he doesn’t deserve. The hate. People saying things that are negative. Show me something that you can see wrong with this kid. Obviously, you don’t want to pay attention to that. But you know, he’s 16.”

Quincy Wilson

Quincy Wilson finished sixth Monday in the 400-meter final, missing out on the individual event in Paris but potentially setting himself up for a relay spot. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Now Quincy sits in limbo, waiting to know if he gets the rest of his summer of if he’s headed to France. He could still be selected for the men’s 4×400-meter relay team.

He didn’t execute the race plan Monday like he’d hoped. He wished he’d run harder to start the race.

But his close was so strong, all heart as usual. He ran the last 100 meters in 11.98 seconds, his fastest final split of the three races and the only one under 12 seconds.

He’d never been sub-45 seconds before the trials. In Eugene, he did it three times in four days. The only other runners to do that were Quincy Hall, 25, who took gold in the 400 at trials, and Chris Bailey, 24, who took bronze. Silver medalist Michael Norman, 26, ran 45.30 and 45.31 in the first two rounds before exploding with a 44.41 in the final. Fourth-place finisher Vernon Norwood, 32, was under 45 seconds in each of the last two rounds, including 44.47 in the final. Bryce Deadmon, 27, who finished fifth and ran two sub-45 rounds, figures to be heavily in the mix for the relay team.

No one else was faster than Wilson. His 44.59 in the semifinals was the eighth-fastest time of the trials.

But the coaches aren’t limited to 400-meter runners for this particular relay. Rai Benjamin, 26, the reigning Olympic and world champ in the 400-meter hurdles, is a pro in the 4×400 with three gold medals, including the last Olympics and the last world championships. A spot could also go to Noah Lyles, the favorite to win the 200 at these trials. Although he’ll be in the 4×100 race, Lyles has shown in the past he can hold his own in the longer version.

The decision may not come soon. So many factors are involved: team chemistry, analysis of opponents, future implications, relationships. It’s not just about times.

“I don’t know. It’s a bunch of politics,” Quincy said of his relay chances. “Because they could take somebody from the 100, the 200, the 800, the mile — anything they want to take. They can take a long jumper, as much as I know. I’m just waiting.”

The waiting began immediately after Monday’s 400-meter final. After crossing the finish line in sixth, and catching his breath, Quincy walked over to stand next to his coach. NBC was going to interview the teenager. But in the interim, while the loss was still fresh, the 16-year-old and his coach took it all in. The medalists taking their victory laps. The crowd cheering, many for him. The energy in the stadium. They just stood there, a coach and his prodigy.

“I just wanted to make sure he was OK,” Lee said of the moment. “My thoughts were with him because, again, he’s got international attention on him. And he fell short. Usually when we fall short in life, it’s not on a platform like this. It might be in front of some co-workers or, you know, family members. But when you have millions of people watching you, and you’re a teenager, and you fall short of your goals, that’s hard to process. And let’s give him some credit for how he did it.”

Wilson, whose perspective seems to be endowed with an old wisdom, was indeed OK. He felt a little nauseous, so he had to dip into the tunnel for a bit. But he came back out to the track. He did interviews. He talked to fans. He signed autographs. His buoyant vibe remained even in defeat.

When he was 8 years old, he remembers clearly, he was in Texas for the AAU Junior Olympics. He saw some studs running, such as Brandon Miller and Tyrese Cooper, and asked his mother what would it take to be like them. He remembered that as he sat there and soaked up the energy of Hayward Field.

“I really am here,” he said he thought to himself. “It’s crazy.”

Quincy got the biggest roar in the stadium when his name was announced. Even after he lost, he still garnered an ovation. He’s got adults rooting for him. Kids looking up to him. His accomplished colleagues respecting him.

Eight years later, he is like them. Even bigger.

“I’m happy that they’re supporting such a good young man,” Lee said. “Everybody can identify with having somebody who they know and they’re close to who’s a teenager wanting to aspire to great things. Seeing people support that, it made me feel good about the state of our country. … There’s a whole lot of things going on that I’m not gonna get into in terms of just where where we are as people. But that wasn’t about race or color or any other of those kind of things. It’s about this was a young kid who is trying to fulfill his dreams.”

Paris may still come true. But let’s not forget those dreams also include a scoop of ice cream, some “Call of Duty” and some practice behind the wheel. As teenagers do.



Athing Mu, Nia Akins and the brutal line between Olympic dreams and agony

(Top photo of Quincy Wilson during Monday’s 400-meter final: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

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