Diondre Batson paced like an anxious cat, wanting to pounce on the prize though he was unable to.
The Alabama senior from Elk Grove has had a limited role in this week’s NCAA Track & Field Championships, with a troublesome left hamstring stalling the sizzling start to his spring and reducing him to the 4x100-meter relay the last five weeks.
Batson, a record-setting sprinter at Laguna Creek High School and American River College, will run anchor on Saturday, needing a herculean effort to boost Alabama to the medal stand.
But Batson mostly frowned Friday, watching the 100 final at Hayward Field in his warmups. Batson insists he would have won the race if he hadn’t sat out qualifying rounds to heal the hamstring. Batson has used this week to round into form cautiously – working out, then icing down with deep-tissue massage.
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“It’s great to be in Eugene, but I’m extremely frustrated,” Batson said. “I gave up a 100 title, basically, but I couldn’t risk the hamstring.”
Batson hopes to be ready for the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium later this month. He won’t be favored in a loaded field, but he will be the hometown favorite. Batson is eager to crack 10 seconds, a benchmark in his event, but he said he’s not in a hurry, even though he is defined by his speed.
When Batson felt his hamstring tighten in the Southeastern Conference 200 last month, he pulled up, groaning because of the twinge.
Batson, 6-foot-2, won the NCAA indoor 200 championship in a school-record 20.32 seconds, the second-best collegiate time of the season.
Batson has had some superb 100 efforts, too. He won the Jace Lacoste Invitational in 10.04, the Mt. SAC Relays in 10.06 and the Border Classic in a lifetime-best 10.01, tied for the second fastest in college this season.
“It’s time I go under 10 seconds,” Batson said. “I can do it.”
His sprints coach agrees.
“He’s ready to do it,” Matt Kane said. “That’s the measuring stick that separates the good college runners from the pretty good professional runners.”
It might have happened here, at the NCAA meet, against runners he knows well from the SEC.
“He would’ve been a favorite,” Kane said. “It takes a little away from this meet when one of the best sprinters in the country doesn’t get a chance to compete, but it’s part of track and field. It happens.”
Kane said Batson – whose potential, he said, is “unreal” – continues to fine-tune his block starts, once a weakness, and he has learned more about sprinting technique and angles.
“He can be as good as it gets,” Kane said. “He definitely has that ability. What gets lost in the shuffle is how he doesn’t buckle under pressure. That’s a real defining factor. So far, he hasn’t shown a weakness. In the Mt. SAC Relays, a strong field, the pressure wasn’t a problem. He just raced.”
Batson was active growing up but was slow to embrace sprinting, even though it was rooted in his family. His mother, Sonja Batson, was a sprinter at Oklahoma in the 1980s.
Diondre initially ran sprints at Laguna Creek, just to “help us score points,” then he discovered he enjoyed the rush of the competition. By the midway point of his senior season in 2010, Batson had the fastest 200 seasonal time in the country. A hamstring injury prevented him from reaching the CIF state meet, where he had hoped to be the region’s first 200 state champion since Kevin Willhite of Cordova in 1981.
Batson also was a standout wide receiver at Laguna Creek and ARC. But a concussion during a game at ARC – and his long-ago promise to his mother – convinced him to concentrate on track. He won the 100 and 200 state titles at ARC in 2012 and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Batson said his dream is to medal at an Olympic Games, but his leg injury reminds him that patience is necessary.
“I have to be really smart with my hamstring,” Batson said. “I have to think of the USA meet in Sacramento and beyond. My legs are everything. I have to stay 100 percent.”
Batson told his mother not to make the long drive from Sacramento to watch him run this week. After all, he’ll be running in his hometown in two weeks.
“She’s waiting for that,” Batson said. “My mom wanted me to be happy with track, to enjoy it in college, and I’m happy.”