There’s nothing insignificant about being Garner’s Fastest Man, considering the competition includes former N.C. State and current Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines, one of the fastest at that position in the league.
Randolph Ross has left Hines, and everyone else, far behind. The 20-year-old will make his Olympic debut Saturday night — Sunday morning, Tokyo time — in the first round of the 400-meter dash, but Garner High track coach Gary George saw this coming a long ago, when Ross, the skinny son of another track coach, first came out for the program as a freshman.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to be our first Olympian out of this program,’” George said. “I didn’t figure it would happen this fast.”
Ross, now a sophomore running for his father Duane at North Carolina A&T, ran the fastest 400 meters in the world to win an NCAA title in June — the third-fastest in NCAA history, 43.85 seconds — and followed that up two weeks later with a third-place finish at the Olympic trials to clinch a spot in Tokyo.
“In college, you see people with different running styles, but on the professional level, it’s completely different,” Ross said at the trials. “I wasn’t used to getting caught by the 100-meter mark, so that was something I had to get used to. As I get older and progress throughout my professional career, I’ll get used to it and handle it differently, but it was definitely a big change.”
He’s one of the fastest-rising stars in U.S. track, but he didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He grew up with his mother in Raleigh while his father — an Olympian himself, in the 110-meter hurdles in Athens — coached at A&T. Ross would spend his weekdays training at Garner and his weekends training with his father and his runners in Greensboro.
“Track was an opportunity not only to look at him and spend time with him, but support him,” George said. “It just worked out. A perfect situation.”
Randolph and Duane Ross declined interview requests through a North Carolina A&T spokesperson.
After winning the 4A state title in the 400 meters as a senior and becoming only the 23rd North Carolina high-schooler to clear 7 feet in the high jump, Ross was one of the most sought-after track recruits in the country. He had offers from powerhouse programs — South Carolina, Iowa, Ohio State — but chose to run for his father instead. His sister Jonah followed him there a year later and was part of A&T’s NCAA third-place 4x100 relay team.
The results have been impressive. Focusing on sprints and getting into the weight room unlocked Ross’ full potential, which was on display last month. Now it’s about replicating that form on the world’s biggest stage.
“He was a scrawny lanky guy,” George said. “He’s not a big eater. He doesn’t eat breakfast sometimes. He’s almost frail. You wouldn’t think he’s that explosive of an athlete, but internally he has so much heart and drive and determination to be good and to be great.”
Where an Olympic medal — whether individually or in the 4x400 relay — would rank against college football stardom and a productive NFL career is a matter of personal preference. While running track during his offseasons at N.C. State, Hines was faster in the 100 meters than Ross has been, while Ross has better times in the 200 and 400.
George, pushed to decide, has to give the edge to Ross: “By far he’s the most explosive and talented athlete I’ve been able to coach.”