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X-Man taking the fast track towards new world order

22 July 2006
www.timesonline.co.uk

By David Powell

Until yesterday, he had never heard of Paula Radcliffe. Until two weeks ago, he had never travelled outside the United States and, only two weeks before that, he did not even hold a passport. Until last month the sport worldwide was barely aware of him and his future appeared to be in American football. Then, without warning, Xavier Carter announced himself to international athletics.

First Carter equalled a record held by Jesse Owens. Next he shook the foundations of Michael Johnson’s single greatest achievement. They call him “The X-Man”. And he calls himself the potential saviour of a sport in which he has been a professional for less than a month. At 6ft 3in and 14st, Carter is a big man with big ideas.

“I want to be the icon of track and field,” Carter said. “Whenever they say track and field I want them to think of Xavier Carter, The X-Man. I feel this is just the start of something.” And what a start.

Carter is the first athlete since Owens in the 1930s to win four titles in the US National Collegiate Championships and the first to move within range of Johnson’s 200 metres world record of 19.32sec.

In Lausanne last week Carter recorded 19.63sec. Only last month Dennis Shaver, his coach, had said: “His first love is football, his second love is track and field.” Not any more. “I love track and field equally,” Carter said yesterday.

Rated in 2004 as the No 1 high school wide receiver prospect in the US, he went on to play for Louisiana State University, but football has now given way to track. Will he go back one day? “I am trying to bring a new phase to track,” Carter said. “You can’t make a new phase then leave.”

Although it does a disservice to the likes of Justin Gatlin, Asafa Powell, Carolina Kluft and Yelena Isinbayeva to suggest that the sport lacks entertainers, Carter’s concern is its scant recognition in the US. “All you hear about is football, basketball and baseball,” Carter said. “I want track televised every time we have a meet.”

Aged 20, Carter is as much V-Man as X-Man. Versatile Carter won the 100 and 400 metres, and gold medals in both relays, at the collegiate championships and, as well as becoming the second fastest half-lap runner in history, he has recorded 10.09sec for 100 metres and 44.53 for the lap. But long jumpers need not worry. Unlike Owens, he is leaving that event alone.

As Carter returns to Europe next week to race at meetings in Stockholm on Tuesday and London on Friday, he confesses to not knowing whether to call himself a 100, 200 or 400 metres runner. “I do not really know what I am because I am so young and have a lot of technique work to do,” he said.

Carter is lined up for the 100 metres in Stockholm and for the 200 metres in the Norwich Union London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace. If he knows little about London, he knows even less about British athletics, hearing Radcliffe’s name for the first time yesterday, as far as he could remember.

It is a forgivable gap in Carter’s education, given his admitted innocence. “Until a few days ago my experience in this world was limited to school and university,” Carter said in Lausanne. At least he knew about Owens, winner of four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. “I remember sitting in class as a little boy reading books on Owens,” Carter said.

Yet, when he equalled Owens’s record, it came much to his surprise. “After I did it, it was on the news at night,” Carter recalled. “They were saying ‘the 2006 Jesse Owens — Xavier Carter’. I had no idea that Owens had done it and, when I realised I was the only person to do it besides him, I was like ‘man, that’s great’.”

Great, too, would be to scythe down Johnson’s 19.32, set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics — a feat which is regarded as matching Bob Beamon’s 29ft long jump at the 1968 Mexico Olympics as the greatest single performance of the last century. “I do not feel it is out of my reach,” Carter said. “In due time I should be able to get there.” This time The X-Man has given us fair warning.



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