There he knelt, knees on the rough track some place in Oregon. Eyes ahead, but really, inward. The eyes looked into his own heart to see if he had just under 20 seconds left to try, once more, to compete in front of millions. To see if he, Shawn Crawford, could be again, the very best in the whole world.
Only Shawn Crawford could look inside his 34-year-old body and see if it had enough left after so many thousands of sprints to make the United States Olympic Team in the men’s 200 meter sprint. Sunday night was the final heat. The top three would make the team.
But in Lancaster, there was no doubt that Crawford would be a champion Sunday night. At the home of Sylvia Crawford, Shawn’s mother, the television announcers said the sprint was about to start, and Sylvia Craw-ford called out: “That’s my baby!”
Christoria, one of Shawn’s two younger sisters, laughed and said, “Mom always says that. Shawn is 34 now. And she still says that is her baby.”
The count started toward the pistol shot that would start the race. Just under 20 seconds to decide if the last four years of training – and really, the last 15 years – would pay off again for Shawn with another chance at an Olympic medal.
The race started with that shot of the starter’s gun. Crawford started to run and the walls of Sylvia Crawford’s home, covered with her son’s medals and awards, seemed to jump. The walls are covered with awards from Indian Land High in Lancaster County, where Craw-ford was fast. In college at Clem-son, he was faster. In 2004 Craw-ford was the fastest man in the world, earning the Olympic gold medal in the 200 meters. He also took a silver as part of the 4-by-100 meter relay team.
He was a darling of the world, with a smile that spanned oceans.
In 2008 Crawford sought to defend his title in the Olympics, but like all comers was battered by a human hurricane named Usain Bolt. Crawford finished fourth in the Olympic finals that year as Bolt ran away from the field, but Crawford was bumped up to second, and a silver medal, after two finishers between Bolt and himself were disqualified for lane violations.
There will be no medals this year. The race, so short, ended with hearts in throats but not tears of joy. Shawn Crawford finished in 20.37 seconds – but in seventh place. He didn’t make the 4-by-100 relay team, either.
A niece, Nevaeh, 8, who had hoped to go to London for the Olympics, was sad. There would be no trip.
But in that house, the Crawford greatness showed yet again, even in defeat.
Christoria, the sister, did not cry. Sylvia, the mother, did not weep. They wanted Shawn to go to the Olympics again, but they looked at those walls filled with gold and silver and other awards, and it was clear that Shawn Craw-ford is nobody’s loser.
“I am so proud of all my son has done,” Sylvia Crawford said. “I still love him. He has done so much to make all of us feel great and proud. Van Wyck and Lancaster and a lot of other places, too.”
Sylvia Crawford is right. All who feel proud of Shawn Craw-ford are not just his family, but anyone who ever cried when somebody’s dreams came true. And then cried again when those dreams were later dashed in a place called Oregon.
Shawn Crawford worked in quiet dignity for all these years to either win the right way or lose with courage. No, Shawn Craw-ford did not keep that 2008 silver medal after the disqualification of two runners. He gave it to the guy who finished second – even if the Olympic track and field officials didn’t recognize the incredible gesture of manhood, fair play and that most rare of all sporting actions in a world of “me first”: sportsmanship.
But that is Shawn Crawford. He has run, trained, almost in solitude all his adult life. His whole life is running, alone, toward one goal and that is the Olympic games. Sprinters can rely on no teammates when that starter’s pistol is fired. There is only Craw-ford against other guys who have trained for years just as he has.
Shawn Crawford exploded from such a humble beginning on a country road in a place so small, Van Wyck, that the place isn’t even a town. But there are road signs that say it “Van Wyck Home of Shawn Crawford Olympic Gold & Silver medalist 2004.”
Not in 2012. But he did it before, and greatness lasts forever.
Crawford exploded onto the world stage with a smile and grace and charm, carrying along every person from small-town Lancaster County and plenty of other places, too. When Shawn Crawford made the Olympic team, every person who got up every morning for the past 15 years and went to work, tired, yet toughing it out, made the team with him.
Millions, tens of millions across the world, have cheered for Shawn Crawford when he won. And when he didn’t on a hot Sunday night in Lancaster, at his mother’s house, there were still cheers The cheers came from a sister and a mother and niece and nephew, with joy in their faces and pride in their hearts. The cheers came from so many others, because Shawn Crawford had made so many, for so long, so proud. And even in defeat, he still does.