Elzie Coleman Reflects On His National Record Being Broken

* Elzie Coleman talks with a news station in 2004; The former Newburgh Academy standout was the top 400 meter runner in the country at that time

Photo Credit: MileSplit, 2004

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The 400 meter high school indoor national record, to many who follow high school track and field closely, seemed like a mark that would stand forever. 

That's how good Elzie Coleman's performance of 45.92 seconds was in 2004.

The reasons were pretty simple. Some bellwether track states, like California and Florida, rarely compete indoors. Meanwhile, for cold-weather high school teams across the country, the winter season only begins in December or January.

National record runs of this significance are not typically meant for March, but instead for the months of May, June, July and August. 

There was also history to account for. High school stars had tried before, including many who went on to have more success than Coleman at the collegiate and international level, including Aldrich Bailey (46.07), Justin Robinson (46.55), Rai Benjamin (46.59), Will Sumner (46.63) Michael Cherry (46.87) and Lashawn Merritt (47.88).

So there was a fair bit of shock on March 10 when Quincy Wilson, 16, dipped under the record at New Balance Nationals Indoor, registering a time of 45.76 seconds. The Bullis School sophomore drove into the line, shattering it before a packed crowd inside the TRACK at New Balance in Boston. 

Recently, we reached out to Coleman, 38, for his thoughts on the matter.

On the track, there are glimpses of both separated by 20 years. Coleman only stood at 5-foot-9 inches and 130 pounds in high school, while Wilson is roughly the same size. 

"I'm very proud he broke my record," Coleman said. "One day I want to meet the guy." 

Twenty years ago, Coleman was also the nation's top 400m runner. The Newburgh Academy (NY) star ran 45.92 seconds at The Simplot Games in February of 2004 before he later followed at the Arcadia Invitational in April and clocked a time of 46.25, finishing the outdoor season with the fifth-fastest time, behind the likes of Cedric Goodman (46.08), Ricardo Chambers (46.02), Xavier Carter (45.30) and Lashawn Merritt (45.24) -- the latter becoming a three-time Olympic champion and eight-time World champion. 

Photo Credit: David Nguyen/MileSplit 

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Back then, it was inconceivable that a high school athlete could run 45-point. When Coleman achieved the feat, it altered the course of his career. 

"It changed my life," he said. "I was like a rock star." 

Now, to be frank, Coleman's life changed in significant ways in the years after that moment -- he was felled by legal problems and two stints in jail centered around two separate assaults. But when we contacted him, the 38-year-old was very clear that his identity and day-to-day centers around fatherhood and his three children, ages 12, 8 and 2. 

Today, he has given up his dream of track and field and works as a cook inside a hospital. He focuses most of his attention on his kids. His oldest, Janiya, has already begun to compete in various youth track meets, while his second born, Elzie Jr., has taken on his father's name. 

"I'm a dad now," he said. "That's what it's about now." 

It wasn't until we reached out to Coleman that he even learned of Wilson's record mark. 

"Records are meant to be broken," he said then. "I'm happy for him." 

We asked Coleman, who accomplished a sport-changing moment in 2004, about his race 20 years ago and his reflections from that time. 

"I don't remember much," he said. "I just know it was a great day. It was a great race." 

What the New Yorker remembered most about his high school career were the hard days at practice learning under head coach Malcolm Burks, who remains at Newburgh Academy as its head track coach and just a few weeks ago led the team to a sprint medley relay national title at Nike Indoor Nationals

"He always brought a military style for us," Coleman said. "(Coach Burks) was a great person." 

Coleman said much of his power and strength came from hill workouts and over endurance training that sometimes counted up to 800 meters. In races, he said, his drive was what willed him to victories most of the time. "I didn't like to lose," he said. 

When it came to breaking 46 seconds, Coleman said that race in February 20 years ago was a culmination of everything that came before it. "I felt like I worked hard enough to earn that record. I put the work in, so I deserved the record." 

Right now, Coleman says he isn't holding on to past glory, or regrets.

He says his kids give him happiness, and "whatever they choose to do, they choose to do," meaning that he isn't going to push them into the sport of track and field. 

He's happy for Wilson, who has fast become the nation's top track and field prospect. 

In July, Coleman said he is flying to Dallas for a family reunion. Perhaps he can catch a track meet while he's there, he said. 

One day, he said, he hopes he meets Wilson and maybe, just maybe, they can talk about what it was like to run 400 meters unlike anyone ever before. 

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