THERE WAS SPEED GALORE at the Tom Jones Memorial, some looked for and some not. Prime in the latter category was the 9.94 co-world leader by Florida State’s JoVaughn (“JoJo”) Martin, who had a previous PR of just 10.40 from 2 years ago.
The 21-year-old Seminole soph had been scheduled to run in the fast section against known entities Matthew Boling and Joe Fahnbulleh, but after Fahnbulleh scratched the sections were reseeded and Martin ended up in the second group. So Florida State sprint coach Ricky Argro, the captain of FSU’s ’06 national championship team and a 10.54 sprinter himself, readjusted his plans.
He explains, “We looked at it as an opportunity to go out there and execute a good race. A lot of times when athletes are young and get into a race with other talented runners, they naturally start racing and forget about a race plan and technique. In this race with him being in the second heat — and this is no disrespect to the other talented runners in that heat — it was more of a calming factor to him. He looked at it as, ‘They‘re good and I know I can run with them so now I can just go out and focus on execution.’
“We talked about the race plan 30 minutes before he ran and he looked good in his warmup. He looked good in his block starts. It wasn’t the best start, but he was hitting positions that we had talked about in practice. I thought, ‘If we can just duplicate that in a race, today might be a good day.’ I definitely did not see that coming.”
Nothing was really expected in section II after Cravont Charleston outdueled Boling in section I, 10.15–10.21.
Argro’s take on Martin’s race as it evolved: “When he got out to the 40- or 50-meter mark, he started out from behind and then when he got even with everybody and I could see that he was going through his transition and accelerating properly. Once he stood up and hit that next gear, I looked at him and thought, ‘Oh wow! This might be fast.’
“He opened up a gap and the gap kept getting wider. I kept looking at him, looking at the clock. When he initially crossed the line, in my mind I thought it said 9 seconds, but I was like ‘OK, I’ve seen this happen before and then it pops up and it’s 10.08,’ which still would have been an amazing time. I would have been ecstatic with that.
“When the 9.94 popped up… I’m normally even-keeled when it comes to track. I try to keep my emotions intact as much as possible because I never want the athletes to get too high or get too low in a race. In track, anything can happen. This was one of those moments when I lost it for a second. I dropped my bag, I dropped my phone. It was like, ‘Man, I did not see that coming.’
“I knew JoJo was a phenomenal talent. I’ve known that from the moment he transferred to us. But to open up that fast, that was what was truly amazing. I knew he had that kind of potential, but to see that in his very first race, was very special for me.”
Argro, who had made it part of his routine to check the transfer portal for potential recruits, found a 5-10/164 (1.78/75) sprinter coming out of Sam Houston State. Martin, who had prepped at Conroe HS in Texas, was one of the kids Argro had been watching and when the name came up on the portal he began speaking with him.
For his part, Martin was looking for some elite-level guys to push him and he wanted to be a part of a bigger team. It worked out perfectly for both.
Though Argro typically starts training in the end of August, this year’s workouts began in October because of the pandemic. Argro thought they might be behind, but Martin caught on quickly to the regimen. In an early-November time trial, Martin “obliterated” a 300, running 32.3–32.4.
Right before the Thanksgiving break, however, he suffered a hamstring injury doing 180-meter repeats. Argro said the sprinters were joking around prior to the workout saying who would beat whom. In one of the runs, Martin eased up and then began to limp. Argro didn’t think too much of it, but after the injury wasn’t healing, he began to wonder. Treatment was slow to begin because the holidays and the school’s following 2-week C19 quarantine kept a proper diagnosis from being made. After an MRI, it was found that Martin had a Grade II tear.
Rehab started with pool workouts, biking and eventually dribble series in December through January. Argro credits the dribble series that he learned from Dan Pfaff for improving Martin’s technique. He noticed that his pupil wasn’t running upright and wasn’t using his larger quadriceps and gluteus muscles. That led to added strain on his hamstrings which he thinks resulted in the injury. The gradual implementation of the dribble series from ankles to wider range of motion accentuated the upright position Martin needed to maximize power in his stride.
By mid-January Martin had returned to off-season training. The first test of his hamstring and his fitness came at the Tyson Invitational. Martin ran a 400 in 48.81. He passed the test.
Two weeks later at the ACCs, Martin ran 20.72 in the 200 heats, but his legs were sore and the decision was made to scratch from the final, let him rest and focus on the Nationals. There he beat Fahnbulleh in the heats with a 20.51 in only his third race of the season, but was DQed for running out of his lane.
Argro’s plan was to open up the outdoor season with the Jones 100. He had Martin run the opening leg on the 4×4 at the Florida Relays. He split 47-point there, claiming he did not know how to run it, Argro says with a laugh.
Martin considers his best event to be the 200, where his PR is a 20.51 from ’19, so the 9.94 was extra surprising. Argro tells his sprinters that the 100 is a long race and not short. Some of the best 100-meter runners, Usain Bolt and Carl Lewis, were not known for their starts and were dominant in the later phases of the race. He thinks Martin fits that mold with a high top-end speed.
Argro recruited Martin as a 100/200 runner and thinks he can do both well. The 9.94 was cause for a recalibration of his training but the goals have not changed: the ACC, NCAA Regionals and Nationals, the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games are all on the docket.
Though the timeline of Martin’s success is moving in fast motion, Argro has found the journey thus far to be especially rewarding, saying, “That’s the best part. I love coaching a kid who seemingly comes out of nowhere and accomplishes a goal.”