If you’re going to defeat Michael Norman and his colleagues on the USC 4×4, a record won’t be enough. Not a meet record… not a national record… not even a World Record (or perhaps more properly, “world record”).
Norman’s final day at the NCAA started in the 2-heat individual 400, where Auburn’s Akeem Bloomfield threw down the gauntlet in heat I with a Jamaican Record/world-leading 44.86, making him No. 5 on the all-time world list.
Norman responded with appropriate force in the second section, setting a new WR of 44.52. His second lap was especially impressive: While he started slower than Bloomfield (21.33 vs. 21.29), he brought it home big, outpacing the Tiger 23.19 vs. 23.57.
He then ran past the postrace interview area almost as fast, saying he had to keep himself rested and ready for the upcoming relay.
“My legs were a little heavy,” the 20-year-old SoCal native would say later, after his relay. “I didn’t really feel it when I ran. I’ll feel it tomorrow.”
So what could the Trojans produce with a newly minted WR holder on anchor? Why, the fastest time ever run indoors.
“They did the majority of the work,” Norman said, deflecting credit to his teammates: Zach Shinnick, Rai Benjamin and Ricky Morgan.
It wasn’t entirely modesty: second leg Benjamin, fresh off an Antiguan Record 20.34 for bronze in the 200, was fastest on any indoor relay ever with 44.35 (see p. 48 for a top-splits compilation). Norman brought it home in 44.52.
“My job was simply to finish strong and hopefully in the front,” the anchorman said. “I didn’t want to throw away all their hard work. I was just feeding off of their energy and the crowd’s energy.”
Norman’s legs might have been fine, but Benjamin was physically a little dicey.
“I tweaked my groin a little bit before the race,” he said, “so that was tough mentally, but I was fine.”
He had a familiar foe circling the track—at one point, the omnipresent Grant Holloway, who was leading his Gators to a team title, made a move on him: “I looked up at the Jumbotron just to see where everyone was. By the time I got to 150 out, I knew I had it.”
The coming together of this quartet was no sure thing. Benjamin, a junior, transferred this season from crosstown rival UCLA, and was helping recruit frosh leadoff Shinnick to the Bruins before they both switched allegiance. He says his new team’s bond is strong.
“I woke up this morning and I said, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get that baton,’ ” Benjamin said. “The main thing is we had fun doing it. I’ve never been on a team where I’ve actually had fun running the 4×4. No offense to any other school I’ve been with, but it’s always fun with these guys. I’m looking forward to finishing out the year with them.”
“I was hyped,” Norman said of his reaction to learning that Bruin standout Benjamin would become a Trojan.
“Our coach was telling us we’re the best you’ll ever see in a group,” Benjamin said. “Just to feed off that, that environment skyrockets us at practice.”
Asked whether USC is now the center of the quartermiling universe, Norman said, “That’s up to everybody else. We’re just trying to promote USC for what we are.
“Our workouts are changed and adapted and tailored to each person’s weaknesses and strengths, so we use each other to get stronger. We have a great coaching staff. Hopefully people recognize coach [Quincy] Watts [’92 Olympic gold medalist in the 400 & 4×4] and coach Caryl [Smith Gilbert] as these great coaches and want to come to USC.”