Runners usually don’t develop into sprinters. Speed is often a gift that comes unwrapped at a young age.
Aldrich Bailey, a senior at Mansfield Timberview in Arlington, Texas, has that gift. He made that known the summer after finishing the fifth grade when the young speedster blazed through 200 meters in about 25 seconds.
But unlike most that were able to continue to fine tune their skills for the short sprint, Bailey took a detour along the way. It’s a detour that Timberview coach Rayford Ross believes may be the reason that his star runner - who signed a four-year scholarship Wednesday morning to attend Texas A & M next fall - is currently ranked No. 1 in the 200 and 400 meter runs and No. 4 for the 60 dash.
Before making his mark as a sprinter in the high school ranks, Bailey specialized in the 800 where as a freshman he cracked the two-minute barrier. He became a middle-distance runner albeit by accident. It was therapy after the initial heal from a broken leg suffered on the football field in the sixth grade.
The best thing that happened to him was he broke his femur playing football,” Ross said. “His rehab was to put him in the 800. He ran the 800 for two years as rehab. That helped him with his work ethic…He can pretty much do any workout and survive.”
That work ethic, that unmatched talent has transformed Bailey into one of the most versatile and top runners in the country.
Just recently, Bailey became the first runner nationwide to crack 21 seconds for the 200, sizzling to a 20.99 clocking at the Arkansas High School Invitational on Jan. 14. That effort came just a week after an impressive double-winning performance at the Texas A & M HS Classic where the 17-year-old phenom captured the 400 with a season-best 47.05 and the 200 with a fast 21.14.
I knew it was going to happen after the way I ran the week before,” said Bailey about his race at Arkansas. “I ran 21.14 just 15 minutes after the 400 at A & M.”
Bailey’s progression to his elite status came early. He got hooked to the sport in the second grade after placing eighth in the 200 at the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships. Shortly after, he caught the eye of Ross when he was already running times fast enough to compete with most freshmen at the high school level.
But after garnering some early success in the sprints, Bailey’s young running career took what looked like an unfortunate twist when he suffered his hip injury on the gridiron.
I knew it was pretty bad,” he recalled. “I was playing defense and I got chopped blocked. My foot was touching my butt so I knew something was wrong.”
During a long, four to five years of rehab, Bailey often questioned himself if he’d ever be fast again, at least as a sprinter. He certainly gained some notoriety as a strong middle-distance runner during his “recovery” stage. Bailey clocked a 2:16 for the 800 as a seventh-grader and then knocked 15 seconds from the time in the eighth grade when he ran 2:01.
By the ninth grade, he was well under two minutes with a best of 1:56 that was followed by a second-place finish at the 2009 Junior Olympics with a PB of 1:54.
Besides his high school team, Bailey also competes for the Dallas Gold, a track club founded by Ross and personal coach Mike Hart nearly 20 years ago. Ross, who was a star hurdler at the University of Houston where he trained under coach Tom Tellez, the same coach as the school’s most celebrated alumni, multiple Olympic gold medalists Carl Lewis, says Bailey is one of those rare special talents.
Ross compares his speedy senior to the great Marlin Cannon, his teammate at South Oak Cliff High in Dallas. Cannon was a three-time 5A state champion in the 400.
He, too, started off as a half-miler,” Ross said. “He ran 45.6 for the 400 and 20 and change for the 200 in high school.”
Bailey admitted the 800 wasn’t his favorite event. He knew that he was just biding his time for his true love of the sprints.
When I ran the 800 with my friends it was fun because we could box people in and use different strategies,” he said. “When I ran it by myself, it was tough because you really had to run.”
Bailey was fully recovered from his hip injury midway into his sophomore year. Now it was all about getting back to being a national-caliber 400 and 200 runner.
I worked with him in the 400 and Mike worked with him in the 100 and the 200,” Ross said. “We straightened his form a lot. He ran all leaned over. We changed him to more a sprinter in workouts. We really worked on his form.”
Bailey, a lean 157 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, copped the 400 at last year’s UIL State Championship where he was timed in 46.76. He ran his current best of 46.53 in winning the event at the Region 5A Meet less than two weeks earlier.
Bailey also earned a trip to the World Youth Games in Lille, France last summer by winning the 200 and 400 at the U.S. Championships in Myrtle Beach, S.C. At the worlds, he was sixth in the 200, running 21.3. He was also a member of the gold-medal winning medley relay that set a meet record of 1:49.47.
Two big meets that Bailey is targeting this winter are the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle, Wash., at the end of the month and the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York March 9-11. In last year’s nationals, Bailey was fourth in the 400 with a time of 47.98.
Last year we got to New York kind of late, like 12-1 a.m.,” he said. “I didn’t do too well. I was really, really mad.”
Motivation to excel on the oval hasn’t been too difficult for Bailey. The fact that he is atop the national rankings in his two primary events is all he needs.
I get my energy from realizing that nobody can beat me,” he said. “I want to be the best and that makes me train harder. I am trying so hard right now. That’s what keeps me going. My coach wants to say he coached the best athlete out of high school and I want to be the best out of high school.”