Florida sprinter Walter Dix is the new face of track and field

Miami HeraldJuly 14, 2008 

Walter Dix doesn't consider himself any kind of changed man from what he was 17 days ago.

''Well, I feel a lot sorer,'' the soft-spoken sprinter offered, triggering chuckles around the Fort Lauderdale hotel conference table where he was seated.

Yet there's no mistaking the difference in how the outside world now views the newly minted Olympian from Coral Springs, Fla.

Perhaps the first tangible evidence came Sunday, when Dix's first step into the professional realm yielded a record-breaking endorsement deal with Nike.

Although financial terms of the 4 ½-year contract weren't disclosed, agent Kimberly Holland said it was the largest deal ever for a track athlete just coming out of college.

''His career has been following a pretty good progression [over time],'' Holland said. "There's not really any doubt that he can be the new face of track and field.''

Dix said: "I'll definitely be able to buy almost anything my family wants, or anything I want. So I'm definitely set.''

A year ago, Dix turned down pro offers reported to be as high as $1 million annually after setting NCAA records on the way to a sweep of the NCAA 100- and 200-meter crowns with Florida State.

Those numbers certainly went up after emerging from the Olympic trials in Oregon as America's fresh hope for a 100-200 double.

Dix finished second to reigning world champion Tyson Gay in the 100 meters. Then, after Gay crashed out of the 200 heats with a hamstring injury, Dix set a Hayward Field record of 19.86 seconds to win the final — beating 2004 Olympic champion Shawn Crawford by the equivalent of half a shoe.

''Everything's fallen into place, and I think it happened for a reason,'' said Dix, who came back from his own hamstring injury in April to excel at the trials.

If anything, Dix suggested, a lackluster showing at last month's NCAAs provided a necessary stimulus for the trials.

''All my flaws were exposed at [the NCAAs],'' he said. "Then I went back and cleaned all that stuff up. . . . I felt like I knew what I could do, but the rest of the world wasn't sure.''

Looking on a few seats away Sunday was Dix's mother, Plinnie, unable to stop smiling as she considered her youngest son's path to becoming an Olympian.

''I [always envisioned] his strength and endurance and courage. Everything else, I'm speechless,'' said Mrs. Dix, a science teacher at Monarch High.

"The publicity he's getting now and all the other things — I'm just speechless. I can't even fathom it. He's still my youngest son. He's still my baby.''

Dix's devotion to his family is discreetly displayed on his wrists, where he wears five rubber bands &mash; one for each member of the family.

His father, Washington, is a former sprinter and track coach who inspired Walter's rise on the track. Older brothers Alex and William also ran track, and Alex remains a key adviser and confidant.

Maybe that's why, despite waking up Sunday a much wealthier man, Dix didn't feel any different.

''The people around me haven't changed,'' Dix said. "I think that's what happens when [you see] people change like that — the people around you change. That makes you feel like a different person. I feel like the same person because I've got the same people around me.''

Dix will race for the first time as a pro — and first time overseas — July 22 when he competes at the DN Galan meet in Stockholm, Sweden.

''I'm definitely excited about that — traveling and competing against the best in the world, not just the best in the country,'' he said.

From Sweden, it's right back to Tallahassee and final preparations with coach Terry Long for the Olympic 100 heats Aug. 15.

Asked if he has let himself daydream about the atmosphere he will experience in Beijing, Dix acknowledged that's not where his mind had taken him.

''If it's anything like Eugene, [Ore.], it's going to be amazing,'' he said.

He was direct, though, when asked what he envisioned on the track.

''A personal best in the 100, personal best in the 200 and gold medal in the [400-meter relay],'' he said.

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