WITH HIS 200 WIN at the USATF Los Angeles GP in 20.06, Terrance Laird has made it clear that he is ready for battle in the sprint wars again. The 24-year-old LSU alum dazzled the world in ’21, winning the NCAA 100 and clocking bests of 10.05 and 19.81. Later in the season, though, he seemed to run out of steam, finishing only 6th in the Olympic Trials 200.
After that race, a week or so after he turned pro, he disappeared from the racing scene. No explanation came on social media, and as his absence lengthened, rumors and speculation abounded.
What the armchair coaches and commentators did not realize was that throughout that ’21 season, Laird was a major injury waiting to happen, a time bomb. The previous fall, he had been doing sled pulls in practice. One day, it didn’t feel right at all. “My back just got really tight and it was uncomfortably tight.”
When the discomfort lingered he and his coaches started dealing with the problem. “I got an MRI,” he explains. “I got an injection that the PTs at LSU recommended. I took some time off to rest.”
Still, with the ’21 season approaching, Laird felt he had to make himself ready. “I started ramping it up through the Christmas break. I didn’t even go home [to Philadelphia]. It was just cold. I wanted to go back home, but I had to get ready for the indoor and outdoor season. I had to do everything I could.”
Soon, he was racing, with the help of spinal decompression twice a week. Focusing on the 200, he went undefeated through the SEC Champs, which he won in a PR 20.28. A couple weeks later he cut that to 20.20 to take 2nd at the NCAA Indoor.
Outdoors, he created a stir with his 19.81 victory at the Texas Relays. He says, “I felt good and just attacked it. After that it was just kind of, ‘I’m still kinda banged up. My back’s not 100%,’ but I felt the best I have since not being hurt. And after that it was like a snowball effect, carrying that momentum into every meeting.”
He got used to running with discomfort. Everyone had their sore points; his didn’t seem unusual. “We just kind of all pushed through it. All of our guys that really scored points at Nationals, we were all a little banged up and obviously we won, we handled our business.” The Tigers won the NCAA crown by 31 points over Oregon.
Finally Laird made it to the Olympic Trials: “I knew 1000% I wasn’t going to make the team… To be honest with you, I probably should have run the 100. Probably still wouldn’t have made the team. I didn’t have anything in the gas tank. I just wanted to get into the final and finish the best I could.”
After his 6th in 20.15, he took a break and started getting ready for fall training. That started in October and it went well — until it didn’t. “I didn’t get through a week of practice and [the back] flared up again. I thought I was fine because I was rested. I wasn’t doing anything strenuous. I felt good waking up every day. And then it hit me and it was so crippling it hurt to stand up for a long time, showering, doing dishes. I couldn’t get comfortable even sleeping.”
Finally, after many delays caused by the pandemic, Laird was able to travel to Germany in May ’22 to see Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, the doctor who had famously treated some of Usain Bolt’s aches and pains. “He looked at me and said, ‘How were you able to run?’ Based on how my body looked at that moment with my hip rotation being out of line, ‘How were you able to run, not only run, but run as fast as you did?’
“I stayed there about a week and a half, we did some rehab, correcting the hips. It’s been almost a year and I haven’t had any back pain.”
Since then, Laird has focused on his rebuild, and he emphasizes how far back he’s really come: “I know for a fact if I got on the track last year, I’d probably run 22 seconds.”
Now he says, “I’m grateful because we took some time, figured out what works, figured what doesn’t work, and now no pain. I’m ready to compete.”
Part of getting ready involved a change in coaching. He left LSU mentor Dennis Shaver and moved to California to be with his girlfriend. She connected him with Darrell Smith, the former UCLA track assistant (and also nephew of well-known sprint guru John Smith).
Laird describes his meeting with Darrell Smith: “He said, ‘Do you think this is a smart move?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to give it everything I have.’”
His first race back came at the indoor Martin Luther King Invitational in Albuquerque. He tied his PR of 6.66 but did not make the final.
“That was my first race in over 500 days,” he recalls. “Then I went to Boston and my knee was just tight. I wasn’t hurt but I just wasn’t feeling 100%. I ran the prelim just real tight.” He decided to skip the final. “I didn’t want to blow it.”
His outdoor campaign produced a 10.11 for 5th at the adidas Atlanta City Games. Then he traveled to the Bermuda GP, where he ran 9.94w for 4th in the dash and ran anchor on the winning U.S. 4×1 timed in 38.21. That set the stage for his win at the LA GP.
The move west seems to have worked out: “Obviously, it’s paying off. Even if I don’t run a personal best in the 200 or 100, it’s OK. Like, I took a year off. I know I can get a personal best if I put the work in.
“Some people take a year off and it’s just like they come back and it’s like, ‘Whoa! ’— it’s an adjustment period. But I feel like I haven’t lost that step. That’s one thing that’s good. That’s one thing I had before we took that time off for the pandemic, and I just didn’t know if I was going to have that step.
“Coach Smith, he’s pushed me a lot more in the 300s, in the 250s. He’s doing a lot more longer stuff because he understands what it’s gonna take to make the team. You can’t run 19.8, 19.9; you gotta run something crazy.”
Laird is confident he is up for the task: “I’m a competitor. It’s exciting. The biggest thing for me is the 200 is so tricky. You can’t just jump on the track and run fast. It’s so strategic. You’re racing against your competitors. If you don’t run your race, you’re never going to win. If I’m gonna blast the first 150 and hope I can hold on, well you’re not going to have anything that last 50.
“You can’t run the bend too fast because you’re not going to have anything that last 100. You can’t run too slow. It’s almost like, it’s that sweet spot… I just want to do it once and really just hit it perfectly.”
With the big meets coming up, there’s no doubt that Laird 2.0 is driven. “I’m hungry right now,” he says. “I want to compete. I want to do well. Once you get a little bit of a taste of that success, like I had at LSU, you know, I want more of it.”