Charleston’s Rush To A Century Crown

USA 100m champion Cravont Charleston, as yet without a high-dollar shoe contract, raced in the kit of Tracksmith’s Amateur Support Program. (KEVIN MORRIS)

BASED ON ANY bird’s-eye survey, the sight of Cravont Charleston closing like a freight train late in the race to pip Christian Coleman by a 100th for the USATF 100 title was unexpected. Yet that’s not exactly how ’21 NC State grad Charleston and coach Allen Johnson saw it.

“Everything I expected?” ponders Johnson, the 4-time 110H world champ and ’96 Olympic winner who now heads up the North Carolina A&T program. “Timewise, yeah. I mean, he showed that he was capable of this 2 years ago, his senior year in college, but he got injured.”

Eight days after his 9.96 USATF win, Charleston, 25, showed well in the tightly contested Chorzów DL dash, further affirming Johnson’s assessment. Noting that he’d picked up 2000 Instagram followers in between the two meets, Charleston laid out a simple plan for the lead-up to the World Champs: “Go back to the drawing board, we’re working on the last 10–15 meters of my race. And go to relay camp and get ready for Worlds. You know, try to win gold.”

While a Wolfpack assistant, Johnson coached Charleston throughout college and felt sure the young man had what it takes.

As a Mall Creek High (Charlotte, North Carolina) senior in ’16 Charleston says, “I ran 10.38 one time at my senior State Meet. Before that, I ran 10.47 in my junior year, but I’m also known in my high school for having the biggest drop-off time in history. I ran 12.84 my freshman year and then came back my sophomore year in 10.78.”

Charleston recalls that when he came under Johnson’s tutelage in Raleigh for the ’17 season, “We had a conversation. He sat me down and said, ‘If you really want to do this, you have to pay attention, focus and keep training hard.’

“And at that time I ran 10.3, then I continued progressing. I ran 10.07 [windy] at the ACC meet.”

Charleston, not everyone will remember, doubled with 3rd-place 100/200 finishes at that year’s USATF Junior (U20) Champs.

“Then I kind of knew if I do what [Johnson] wants, I know I can continue to run fast times. But [Johnson] always has been my support. That’s so important, having a good support system. I mean, having somebody who believes in you from the get-go regardless of where you came from.

“Cuz I came from nothing, and just having him in my corner meant a lot. Having a gold medalist in my corner meant a lot to me.”

Though rare, sudden breakthroughs in the sprints happen. Think Fred Kerley coming from a 10.49 century best before the last Olympic season to 9.84 and a silver medal in Tokyo. Yet Kerley’s career may be characterized as a road less traveled. He had burned a then-Collegiate Record 43.70 lap as a Texas A&M quartermiler 4 years earlier at age 22.

That’s why Charleston sprinted in relative anonymity — no track record to speak of at the NCAA Championships.

“Two years ago I thought he was gonna run 19.8 and 9.8,” Johnson says. “But he got injured at the wrong time. And then last year was his first year out of school, and he was kind of making that adjustment. He ran 9.98 last year.

“This year the goal was be in the final, try to make the team. So that’s what we did.”

Charleston’s 9.98 in 2022 came in Geneva two weeks before the Nationals. Two days before that, he had placed 3rd to Coleman and Kyree King in the Rome DL dash. At the USATF meet, he did not advance from the semis after a 10.05.

Last season, Charleston admits, was one of learning, feeling his way, particularly with the travel and racing in unfamiliar surroundings in Europe. For that piece of the puzzle, Johnson — 14 times a World Ranker in the hurdles, and in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot for 11 of those years — provided invaluable gold medal guidance.

“That’s the beauty,” Charleston says of his coach. “He had his way. He understands that every athlete is different. He always says, ‘Do what you do best, find your own way.’

“In college you have a lot of guys who are built behind the hype from high school. But coming to NC State, coach said, ‘You don’t have the hype behind you, so you have to go out there, go perform on your own,’ having the autonomy to do what I need to do in the meet.

“And so on race day, he doesn’t talk to me at all. I go out of the blocks, but that’s it. He don’t bother me, I don’t bother him. I just kind of do my own thing.

“And it’s that freedom that I have that kind of keeps me sane overseas. I mean, I don’t always have a coach overseas, and he knows that so I’m ready to go on my own and do what I gotta do whenever, wherever.

“But no,” Charleston continues, Johnson “is a very, very laid-back person behind the scenes in the spotlight. He’s just very chill, very quiet until you start talking to him and he starts talking all day long [laughs]. No, he’s a great person. I’m lucky to have him in my life.”

Also, highly influential in his new breakthrough to a national title, Charleston says, is 3-time USATF 110H winner Daniel Roberts, who joined Johnson’s training group at A&T this season.

“Attitude-wise, training with Daniel Roberts I’m more positive this year,” Charleston says. “You’ve all seen Daniel Roberts, the hurdlers this year, always smiling, always has a great smile on his face no matter what’s happening, and having that being around me the whole year, it kind of lifted my spirits.”

While the two athletes mostly follow different event-specific training routines, Charleston explains, “I drive an hour-and-15 [from his family’s home in Charlotte] every day, to and from practice, so I might come to practice a little down, a little angry. But seeing Daniel, I’m like ‘OK, it’ll be a good day.”

The Friday of USA Nationals was a very good day, indeed, for Charleston, as was Sunday for repeat hurdles winner Roberts.

Charleston — racing with his left calf wrapped — came ready for it. He had run 9.87w at Mt. SAC in May, and then 9.91 for 2nd behind Terrance Laird at the LA GP. In Kuortane, Finland, on June 17, he cut his best to 9.90.

Asked two days after his title dash what are his memories of the final, Charleston responds instantly with a laugh line, “I don’t have any.” Pause. “So OK, I remember the first 10 steps. I said, ‘OK, get out hard.’

“And after that it went blank for about 50, 60m. And then I saw Coleman. I saw Coleman right there and about 4 other guys on the other side of me, just beating me.

“I said, ‘Dang, I came all the way, I did so good all year, not to make the team.’

“And I looked up, ‘that’s all crazy.’ I said, ‘Hold up! I won.’

“I was just so happy and relief just came all over my body.”

Subscription Options

Digital Only Subscription

  • Access to Current Articles
  • Access to Current Issues
  • eTrack Results Newsletter
  • Unlimited Content from our Technique Journal, Track Coach

$88 per year (recurring)

Digital Only Premium Archive

  • Unlimited Articles
  • Access to Archived Issues
  • eTrack Results Newsletter
  • Unlimited Content from our Technique Journal, Track Coach

$138 per year (recurring)

Print + Digital Subscription

  • Access to Current Articles
  • Access to Current Issues
  • eTrack Results Newsletter
  • Unlimited Content from our Technique Journal, Track Coach
  • 12 Monthly Print Issues

$125.00 USA per year (recurring)
$173.00 Canada per year (recurring)
$223.00 Foreign per year (recurring)

Print + Digital Premium Archive

  • Unlimited Articles
  • Access to Archived Issues
  • eTrack Results Newsletter
  • Unlimited Content from our Technique Journal, Track Coach
  • 12 Monthly Print Issues

$175.00 USA per year (recurring)
$223.00 Canada per year (recurring)
$273.00 Foreign per year (recurring)

Print Only Subscription

  • 12 Monthly Print Issues
  • Does not include online access or eTrack Results Newsletter

$89.00 USA per year (recurring)
$137.00 Canada per year (recurring)
$187.00 Foreign per year (recurring)

Track Coach
(Digital Only)

  • Track Coach Quarterly Technique Journal
  • Access to Track Coach Archived Issues

Note: Track Coach is included with all Track & Field News digital subscriptions. If you are a current T&FN subscriber, purchase of a Track Coach subscription will terminate your existing T&FN subscription and change your access level to Track Coach content only. Track & Field News print only subscribers will need to upgrade to a T&FN subscription level that includes digital access to read Track Coach issues and articles online.

$19.95 every 1 year (recurring)

*Every 30 days