Andrew Dys

The gold medal, nor the metal signs, can change this humble track star

Shawn Crawford of Van Wyck runs a heat of the 100m at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The gold medal winner hopes to return to the Olympics next year in China.

Details on 3B
Shawn Crawford of Van Wyck runs a heat of the 100m at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The gold medal winner hopes to return to the Olympics next year in China. Details on 3B

VAN WYCK -- It's rare that a story is about someone who has made no news for almost three years. Someone who, if he has his choice, won't make news until next year at this time.

But that is the wonder of Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympics gold medalist from tiny Van Wyck. A place so small, of maybe 500 people just a sprint across the Catawba River in Lancaster County, that people can't even agree if it is pronounced Van "Whack" or "Wick" or "Wike."

Crawford won gold in Athens, Greece, in the 200-meter sprint. On that day he was the fastest man on Earth. Then he won a silver in a relay race.

Now 29, he hopes to do the same thing in China next year, and add the 100-meter title to the gold list. Crawford moved from Raleigh, N.C., to Los Angeles to train under the famous Bob Kersee, who has helped other athletes win gold.

"The plan is to get there," Crawford said of the Olympics.

Crawford might be the greatest famous athlete around for the simple reason that he hates to talk about himself. You won't hear Shawn Crawford refer to himself in the third person. He is not spotted clubbing at all hours with a starlet on one arm and a supermodel on the other.

Of course, I would like that myself, but that is why Crawford is cool and I have no clue.

He is such a regular guy that he admits he recently had surgery and tells you on what part of his body. The tabloids do not have to speculate. The surgery was on his meal ticket: His feet.

"Bunions," he said. "I had them since I was a little. They were a nuisance."

Even in Los Angeles, where stars claim to hate the press but seem to be found by paparazzi at 4 a.m., nobody sees or hears Crawford.

Crawford hasn't met a single star, no famous athletes.

"Not my style," Crawford said.

Years ago, Crawford raced against a giraffe and a zebra in a TV race and was often dubbed the Cheetah Man because of his speed.

"People still ask about it," he said.

"The nickname Cheetah Man?" I ask.

"No, the giraffe," Crawford admitted.

See, Crawford beat that giraffe.

But he lost to the zebra.

The little bit of notoriety that Crawford gets around home in Van Wyck -- he gets back when he can, but not often -- comes through his family. His mother, Sylvia, and a sister, Takelia, still get stopped cold by people at the mall in Rock Hill or Charlotte or Pineville, N.C.

"They say, 'Aren't you Shawn Crawford's mother or sister or whatever?' " Takelia said.

But even though Van Wyck is so small, Crawford said he did run into one person in L.A. who had heard of it.

"The guy said he saw the signs on the road on the way to Rock Hill," Crawford told me.

Ah, the signs.

Today starting at 10 a.m., at a community center in the little hamlet on S.C. 75 just off S.C. 5, is the ninth annual Celebrate Van Wyck festival. It has a car show and crafts and food and fun. Shawn Crawford will not be there, but here's how everybody coming from anywhere will see the name "Van Wyck" today.

You look at a S.C. Department of Transportation green sign on the side of the road that says "Van Wyck," with an arrow on it.

The rest of the sign is the most important part, a part Crawford is uneasy talking about because it embarrasses him.

The signs coming both ways on S.C. 5 say, "Home of Shawn Crawford, 2004 Olympic Gold & Silver Medalist."

Shawn Crawford is humble and gracious. He is the best in the world at what he does and wants to prove it again in the Olympics next year. He's an example for anybody from around here that we can be the greatest.

By the way: Crawford calls it Van "Whack." Whack it is.