Feeling of Triumph: Burrell reflects on 6.61 60
By Stephen Underwood
After he screamed across line – and we do mean “screamed,” as he began a yell of exultation probably 15 meters from the finish – Cameron Burrell decelerated into the pads at the end of the straight and then bounced back, skipping sideways as he turned and looked upward at the scoreboard.
He already knew he had executed a near-perfect 60 in the final of the event this past Sunday night at the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle. He was pretty sure he had won, beating four other guys – three with new personal bests exceeding his own from the second semifinal. And he knew he had run fast. The question was how fast?
His eyes grew big as he realized he’d won – he had won – and he turned around quickly and clapped his hands with joy. But wait. He had to look at the board again as he walked backwards a few more steps toward the finish line, then he simply turned and strode back toward this electronic representation of what he had just done. His eyes got even bigger and he cocked his head as he tried to make sense of what he saw. 6.61?? ... Really??? 6.61!! He clapped his hands again, twice, full of passion that at least matched any he had ever felt in his years on the track.
“It was just ... such a feeling of triumph,” Burrell said after a few days reflection. “I had executed really, really well, did pretty much everything right, and it all came together. It felt amazing.”
Burrell’s coach at Ridge Point (Missouri City, Texas), Aaron Macik, watched the race online as the team had a meet during the weekend. “He always has a good start, but that final push he had was amazing,” he said. “Just to see that kid grow ... He’s usually quiet and reserved, and goes about his business very professionally. So to see that emotion was a good thing.”
Burrell is not normally given to celebration after a race. He keeps his cool, in part, because he’s usually expected to win. And when he isn’t expected to win, sometimes he’s run well, other times not so well. He won the 4A state 100 last spring. He had a wind-legal long jump last summer that put him within a half-inch of the 25-foot club. After his sophomore year in 2011, he made the World Youth team in the long jump, then in 2012 the World Junior team in the 4x100.
But these have all been part of a low-pressure journey into the sport, steps along the way to seeing what he could do. Burrell’s father Leroy, the head coach at University of Houston, is the former world-record holder in the 100 (9.84). He also owns a pair of Olympic medals – among many achievements – but he has made a point of never pushing Cameron into the sport.
“I feel no pressure to be like my dad and he doesn't want me to feel like I have to be like him,” said the younger Burrell. “He actually encouraged me to play other sports besides track. Track and field is a path that I chose to follow. There's no one in my family who made me or pressured me in any way to pursue the sport.”
Similarly, Cameron has never put such burdens on himself. He works hard, always tries to get better, but avoids tethering himself to specific goals. A few weeks earlier, he had said, “My only goal for 2013, and the rest of my career, is to work my absolute hardest and see what happens. I don't think I can set number goals because I can’t be satisfied once I reach that goal.”
If that sounds like “never being satisfied” pressure, it’s not. It’s just wanting to keep getting better and not setting limits, which in effect takes pressure off.
And that’s part of the reason why 6.61 was so hard to fathom. Burrell’s time was the likes of which hasn’t been seen since those crazy days just before the new millennium when Kentuckian Casey Combest was tearing up the track en route to the 6.57 USR. In the 14 years since, no one had come closer until Burrell’s sonic blast, this 6.61 that now stands #2 on the all-time list.
Better yet, and a little bit ironically, he had won because he had put a little pressure on himself – the right kind of pressure. You could have said Burrell was the favorite Sunday; after all, he came in with a US#1 6.69, faster than anyone else’s PR. But then he was last in the first section final last year and seventh overall in this meet, with four of those who’d beaten him returning.
Burrell ran 6.73 in the first semi, winning decisively. But in the second semi, Levonte Whitfield, Tatum Taylor, and Isaiah Brandt-Sims – all of whom had beaten him here last year – ran 6.64, 6.67 and a second 6.67. Burrell was the underdog again.
“Those guys came with the heat,” said Burrell. “I had to regroup and keep my composure. I kept telling myself I could win the race and pull off the upset.” He went on to say he stayed calm and tried to draw on everything he had learned to this point in his track life, mentally and physically, to put himself in a position for the best possible performance. Then, he executed.
Leroy Burrell also had to watch online (weekend conference meet for Houston) and was very thrilled for his son. “I knew Cameron would rise to the occasion emotionally, technically and competitively, because he has done so all year” he said his dad. “My initial reaction as watched the race was really amazement, because 6.61 is really a hell of a performance at the high school level. He executed really well. He really incorporated all of the dynamics of elite sprinting, especially at the start and translation. All of the things we talk about and have worked on he got right in one fell swoop.”
Now, four days later, Cameron Burrell is still trying to remain the same student-athlete he’s always been and not get caught up in expectations or numbers. He entered New Balance Indoor Nationals in the 60, but decided making another long trip as he prepares for longer races and jumps in the big meets in the already-started Texas outdoor season was too much.
“It was a wild weekend,” he reflected of the trip to Seattle. “I learned more than ever about what it takes to set a goal and accomplish it ... that I can do anything if I work for it.”
Burrell admits the 6.61 “sets the bar high for the rest of 2013.” This is a guy, though, who’s carrying 10.34w and 10.41 PRs from his sophomore year that are overdue to come down. With big dashes coming at the Victor Lopez meet, the Texas Relays and, eventually, the state meet, he admits that “I could be pretty happy with 10.1-something or 10.2.” He also expects to try and earn another Team USA uniform for Pan-Am Juniors.
Without adding that pressure, Burrell has started to be able to envision a future in the sport that might have been a little further into the ether just last week. Of course, the first stop will be right down the road next year at U. of Houston, where the son and the father will be in ever-closer contact. Both seem secure that they’ll be able to keep things as they are now and Cameron makes it clear there was more than one reason to be a Cougar.
“I've always loved the University of Houston,” he said. “Even if my dad wasn't the coach there they still have a lot to offer like a top ranked business school and the student body is very diverse. Then there’s the track and field tradition and history they have, the location in a major city, the weather’s good, and of course it’s close to home.
And Coach Burrell? “He's my dad before he’s my coach any day.”
And that dad is one proud father. “What he is doing now is not easy. He is showing a great deal of maturity and poise. It was a beautiful run in a tough competitive race and it bodes well for his future.”