“I wrote down that my career goal was to run at the Olympics,” said the rising Rebel senior who qualified in the 200 meter run at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., on July 1. “I thought if I put in the work I would get there. I was just being honest. And here I am.”
Here he is indeed. The 22-year-old Young, from Junction City, Kan., and Allen Community College, believed he could make the Olympics this year. He didn’t believe his coach felt the same way, however.
“We didn’t anticipate me making the team,” he said. “Well, I did, but Coach (Joe) Walker didn’t.”
Walker knew Young could as well, but that it happened this year was somewhat of a surprise.
“Isiah has really been coming on,” Walker said. “I knew there was some greatness in there and he had a lot of potential. It’s just happened quicker than I thought.”
And here Young is, in Oxford now but later this month heading to London. It has sunk in for Young, finally. Or has it really?
“Well, it maybe sunk in after I got a good night’s rest (last Thursday),” said Young, one of only six current Southeastern Conference student-athletes who will be competing in the Olympics. “It’s still been on my mind, and it’s going to continue to be on my mind until I finally get over there and start competing again. I’ve got a couple of weeks to train.”
For now it’s a bit of recovery time, according to Young.
“I’m kind of toning back and letting my body get rest,” he said. “We’re toning back the workouts and then we’ll build back up like I was training for Nationals (NCAA) so I’ll be back running at my fastest again. Right now I’m just toning it back, so I’m not at my fastest.”
He was fast enough in Eugene, at least in the 200 meters. Young crossed the finish line third behind professionals Wallace Spearmon (Saucony) and Maurice Mitchell (Nike). Young’s time of 20.16 broke his own school record of 20.32 he set when he won the SEC Championship earlier this year.
“I thought I had finished second,” Young said. “I ran around the track and looked at the board to make sure. I got third, but I really wasn’t upset because that meant I was still going. It still was a good feeling knowing I was going.”
He had failed in his first attempt just days earlier in another event. Young also competed in the 100 meter but didn’t qualify.
“I was really ready for the 100,” he said. “I had good practice leading up to it. When it was time to race, I don’t know if I just didn’t run my race or if it was one of those type races where it didn’t go good for me. So I put that behind me, trained up a little bit more, and got ready for the 200. I just did what I could in the 200.”
And that was enough.
“I thought I would make the (U.S. Olympic) team this year,” he said. “I really believed that, either in the 100, on the relay team, or in the open. My chances got better trying to make the 200 due to some big names pulling out, guys like Tyson Gay. He pulled out so that opened a spot for somebody young to come up and get a shot at it. I think I was one of those guys.”
The 200 meters was the last event of the trials, according to Young. He said there wasn’t even time for a victory lap for the top three finishers. They were whisked off to meet the media and to get ready to adjust their schedules now that they knew they were in. He did, however, take the time to make one important call.
“My first phone call was to my mom,” Young said, smiling. “She really doesn’t know track. She just knows I do good in it. That was my first call.”
Then he put the phone down and tried to let sink in at that time what he had just accomplished. That was also a challenge.
"After that I left it alone,” he said of his phone. “Messages and calls kept coming in. I had like 80 text messages. Facebook, and then 40-something twitter mentions. When I finally got back to the hotel, I took the time to respond back to everybody. That took a little while.”
There was still more to do. He and Walker had to rearrange their immediate schedules since he’d made the team.
“We had to change the flight (from Eugene to Memphis),” Young said. “I had meetings, like one on ethics and how to act across the seas representing. It’s like representing your school and you’re supposed to act a certain way. Since we’re representing the U.S., things are a little different. They’re teaching us things like how to hold the flag. Don’t drop it, but everybody knows that.”
Three other participants with Ole Miss ties are a part of this year's Olympics. Brittany Reese is competing in the long jump for the U.S. and is the favorite to win a gold medal. Jennifer Gillom is an assistant coach for USA women's basketball. Mahesh Bhupathi will represent India in men's tennis.
Amazingly, Young has only been running track for three years. He played a little football in high school, but his main focus became track. He believes if he can get through the preliminary competition in the early rounds that he’s got a chance to win a medal.
“Olympic finals,” Young said of his immediate goal. “From there, I’ve just got to run my race and try to get a medal.”
Based on his performances lately, don’t count Isiah Young out. He just may bring one home.