White Lightning Sprinter Casey Combest doesn't care that he's an anomaly: He knows he's fast

May 16, 1999

If you look closely at the hallway carpet just outside Casey
Combest's bedroom, you can see an odd pattern. Embedded in the
beige rug, right down the center of the narrow, 19-foot hallway,
are footprints that lead past the kitchen of the ground floor
apartment in Henderson, Ky., that Combest shares with his mom,
Shannon Bugg, and his four-year-old sister, Brooklyn. Each night
before he goes to sleep, Casey, one of the nation's fastest high
school sprinters, clears his sister's toys out of the way, puts
his racing blocks against the back wall and, with Brooklyn's
help--"Weady, set...gooo!"--practices 20 race starts.

The footprints end just before the wall, as if Combest has
magically run right through an impenetrable barrier. In many
ways he has. Combest, 18, is a track and field anomaly. He is
5'7" and weighs 135 pounds, has never lifted weights and trains
on a crumbling cement track. He also happens to be white in a
country that has produced exactly one world-class white sprinter
in the last 43 years: 1997 world indoor 200-meter champion Kevin
Little.

"I am driven because I want to be something special," says
Combest, who will run for Kentucky next year. "I have to be
driven. Every race I run in, I am the shortest, lightest and
whitest guy on the track."

He's usually the fastest, too. Combest, a student at Owensboro
High, 100 miles west of Louisville, has won five state sprint
titles and set the national high school indoor record for 60
meters. Last year he helped the U.S. 4 x 100 team to a silver
medal in the world junior championships with a hand-timed leg of
10.1. His fastest official time in the 100 meters is 10.34. (The
high school record, set by Derrick Florence of Galveston, Texas,
in 1986, is 10.13.)

Combest's combustible starts are equal parts power and
precision. With his short, explosive legs--he can dunk a
basketball--Combest creates such rapid turnover that after three
steps he's at full speed. That kind of acceleration attracted
college football programs such as Notre Dame and Nebraska,
though Combest had never played the game, as well as
physiologists who want to study his muscle composition. "I said
no to football and the scientists," says Combest. "I ain't no
freak."

After Combest won his first national indoor title, in the 60
meters in 1998, no less an authority than Carl Lewis said, "I
have been running track for over 20 years, and he has one of the
best starts I have ever seen. The sky is the limit for [him]."
On March 14 in Columbus, Ohio, Combest set the national high
school indoor mark for 60 meters with a 6.57. It was the 10th
fastest time in the world to that point in 1999, and afterward
former 100-meter world-record holder Leroy Burrell called
Combest's performance "fundamentally perfect." Two weeks later
Tennessee's Leonard Scott won the NCAA Division I national
60-meter title with a time of 6.58.

"Casey could change the sport of track and field by bringing
back the white sprinter," says Owensboro coach Bob O'Brien, who
trains Combest with interval workouts normally done by college
sprinters. Adds sprinting guru John Smith, who coaches current
60-meter world-record holder Maurice Greene, "Basically, white
sprinters in the U.S. have bought into the notion that they
can't run, which is bull----. Casey's earned his stripes in the
sport because he forces you to look at him as a competitor and
not as a color."

The person with the best perspective on race in racing may be
Combest himself. He shrugs, rubs his crew cut and says, "I don't
look at race. You're not supposed to. I mean, it's almost the
year 2000, time to get past all that." What defines Combest,
then, is not his size or pigment but his ability to work
tirelessly toward one goal. "My life is simple," he says. "All I
want is to be fast."

After he does his 20 starts, his nighttime ritual continues in
bed, where Combest listens to a homemade tape of starter's
cadences. Then he might study the technique of Armin Hary, the
German sprinter who was nicknamed the Thief of Starts after he
won gold in the 100 at the 1960 Games. Sometimes before meets
Combest will even put on his uniform, lie in bed and visualize
what he wants to accomplish. "Every day people ask me if I'm
going to the Olympics, and it's definitely something I want to
do," says Combest, who, while he may still be too green next
year to make the U.S. team for Sydney, has a good start toward
2004. "People are going to remember me. I'm sure of it. And it
won't be because I'm white but because I'm fast."

COLOR PHOTO: CATHY CLARKE/MESSENGER-INQUIRER

"Every race I'm in," says Combest, "I am the shortest, lightest
and whitest guy on the track."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)