Column: Matthew Boling Had Best Run In Pan Am U20 History

"I just wanted to come here and make history. That was my goal." -- Matthew Boling

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By now, Matthew Boling is likely on a beach somewhere on the Costa Rica coastline with family, appropriately taking part in something he's had little chance to do this spring and summer. 

Relaxing. Finally

But not before he went ahead and literally shook the track and field universe with an epic 3-day performance at the Pan American U20 Championships in San Jose. 

The Houston Strake Jesuit graduate, whose family is taking a well deserved beach vacation following Boling's final competition of 2019, won four gold medals and set an open PR, going a wind-legal 10.11 (+0.5) seconds in the 100m and later a 20.31 in the 200m -- just one-hundredth of a second off his best. He may have had the best juniors performance ever, and there's little argument that it was the best effort of the Pan American U20 Championship's 20-year history. 

He anchored Team USA's World U20 record-setter in the 4x100 (38.62), then ran the second leg on the American's World U20 record-setting 4x400, with a split in the 44s, as the team went a can-you-even-believe-they-just-did-that 2:59.30.

While the rest of Team USA was dancing in the stadium as the closing ceremonies wound down, Boling found a quiet space near the podium to breath and let it all sink in. He was named the most valuable athlete following competition. 

"I just wanted to come here and make history," he said. "That was my goal. Before we got here, the whole plane ride I was like, 'Four gold medals, four gold medals.' I knew I had a chance to do it. It's really special."

Olympian Carl Lewis, who was on hand and who once won three gold medals at this same competition, was equally impressed. 

"I think he ran really well," he said. 

Boling knew, of course, that everyone was watching, not just Lewis. A contingent of family members and friends, including his father, mother, brothers and girlfriend, were on hand to see what he could achieve on the track at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica. There was also the audiences from afar that would watch, and later engage, in endless banter regarding the nation's biggest star of 2019. 

That was all in the back of his mind. 

But something happened on the first night of competition, after he rolled to an easy win the preliminary heat of the 100m. For the first time all season, Boling was free of nerves. 

"I got really calm before the race," he said. "That was the most calm I've ever been before a big race. I just had a lot of confidence going in."

Arguably his best work out of the blocks came in that 100m final, before he floored the competition with an uncatchable last 50 meters. Facing Jamaica's Oblique Seville -- who stared down an opponent in the final meters of his preliminary race -- Boling calmly dispatched him, too. 

"I've been taking every piece of advice I can get and putting it together in practice. That's what helped me today," he said. 

From there, he took the 200m final on the second night, once again looking calm, before he anchored the team's surprising record-setter in the U20 4x100 final. 

Few would have argued the American U20 men weren't the favorites heading into the relay, but putting together a sub-39 second effort on one day's practice was also a tall ask. Olympian Wallace Spearmon put Lakeland's Arian Smith in the lead, following by Penn State's Justin Otofan and then Plainfield North's Marcellus Moore. 

Each executed on their parts -- Smith even commented "I slowed down on my hand-off" -- before giving up to Boling, who once again was being chased by the Jamaicans -- two of those members, Smith and Moore, could realistically be back in 2020. 

It was over once the baton hit Boling's hands. 

"I just had to get the baton and bring us home," he said. "My other three legs gave me a good enough lead to where I could relax and run the straightaway and we would be good."

Then something amazing happened. 

As Team USA's Trey Johnson was dealing with a hamstring issue, Boling was given a chance to be a member on the team's 4x400. 

He wasn't going to pass it up.

A year earlier, at the IAAF U20 Championships in Finland, Boling had been in the pool of 4x400 relay but was not picked for the final -- in a race where the USA dropped the baton and finished second. He agonizingly watched from the sidelines, and he had been itching to redeem himself ever since. 

On Thursday, he made a plea to himself. 

"I just told myself 'You wanted this opportunity so bad last year and now you have it. So make the best you can of it.'"

Spearmon, once again tasked with fielding a loaded lineup, placed Boling in the second leg just behind Fred Lewis, and in front of Matthew Moorer. Hazelwood West's Justin Robinson, who won the open 400m, ran the anchor -- deservedly so. 

It was a position Boling, and the team, embraced. Incredibly, the squad became the first U20 team all-time to go under 3-minutes, breaking the record of 3:00.33 that was last set in 2017 by Team USA at the last installment of the Pan American U20 Championships. 

Lewis and Moorer both split low 45s, Boling went mid-44, and Robinson ran in the high 43s. 

"The 4x400 is the most hype event," Boling said. "Breaking the record in the 4x400 just felt better than the 4x100, because it's harder to do. That was more satisfying."

Seeing the final reward, in the form of four golds, was doubly satisfying, as it came in the face of some sacrifice: Overwhelming media exposure and a small amount of criticism was paramount over the spring and summer -- some doubters wondered if the hype of Boling's all conditions 9.98 100m was real or not. 

Time and again Boling answered those doubts. But few could have qualms after this. 

"It's been a dream to come to a big international meet like this and even to get one medal, and to get four golds was just amazing," Boling said. "I didn't expect this at the beginning of the season but the whole season has been going well. I've been focused and doing what I've needed to do and it feels great."

No doubt, Boling laid to rest any doubts in Costa Rica.

He leaves his high school career with the fifth fastest 100m effort all-time (and seven all conditions marks under 10.15), the 13th fastest 200m, and an array of great U20 marks in the long jump, plus World U20 records in the 4x100 and 4x400. 

Next up is Georgia. Boling can't wait to get started. 

"I feel ready to go to college," he said. "I'm going to miss everybody back home. But competition wise, I feel ready."

But first, if nothing else, he's earned some beach time with family. 

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