Olympic hurdler Devon Allen celebrates winning the gold medal in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. (Photo courtesy of Louis Allen)
Olympic hurdler Devon Allen celebrates winning the gold medal in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. (Photo courtesy of Louis Allen)

Devon Allen was a 13-year-old watching the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics when Jamaican Usain Bolt broke the world record in 100-meter sprint with a time of 9.69 seconds. The track and field events caught the eye of the young man from Phoenix.

“I wasn’t really a hurdler yet,” Allen said. “But, obviously I watched all the events in track. It looked cool on TV and they had the colorful opening ceremony. I thought this would be cool to do one day.”

“One day” comes Friday when he will be a part of Team USA at the Opening Ceremonies in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The 110-meter hurdler has the second-fastest time in the world this year, .05 seconds behind Jamaican Omar McLeod.

Allen’s track career began when he was spotted running at a local Boys and Girls Club of America as an 11-year-old by a member of the University of Southern California track team.

Judith Onyepunuka, a sprinter from Phoenix, saw Allen at the after-school program and suggested he join her father’s track team.

“She said ‘hey you’re pretty fast. You should run track,’” Allen said. “I told my dad about it and the next year I joined the team.”

In his freshman year at Brophy, he broke records for the fastest time by a freshman in the boy’s 100 meters, 200 meters and the decathlon. In his sophomore year,  he continued the record-breaking streak in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters and 110-meter hurdles. When he joined varsity, he continued to break Brophy’s record in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 110-meter hurdles.

“As a freshman, I can’t say that he stood out that much more than anyone else other than he was faster than everyone else,” said Tim O’Neil, who coached Allen in high school.

He also showed his coach an attitude of perseverance when he competed in a track event in his sophomore year. While en route to the 2011 World Youth Track & Field Trials, the team’s plane could not take off from Charlotte. O’Neil scheduled a car to pick them up and, with one hour of rest, Allen competed in the meet.

However, he was not at as his best and finished fourth in 13.99 seconds in boy’s 110-meter hurdles, which fell short of qualifying for the World Youth team. Despite all the obstacles, Allen did not complain.

“In a lot of sports, you can make excuses, but I feel that track and field is the one you really can’t,” Allen said. “It is an individual sport that you get out of it what you put in.”

When he finished high school in 2013, he had been named Arizona’s Gatorade Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year in his junior and senior year at Brophy. He said that he found his niche in the hurdles.

“So, there was something new that added onto my interest was that I had something to work at, something to get better at,” Allen said.

After Brophy, Allen committed to University of Oregon where he was able to continue track and field in the spring and play football in the fall. He suffered a torn ACL during the 2015 Rose Bowl less than five seconds after the opening kickoff and had to miss 2014-15 season track and field season. He said he tried to rehab to return to running in 2015 USA Track and Field Championships in June.

“I was pretty much motivated to get 100% by May,” Allen said. “Now that I think about it, it was pretty unrealistic because I was barely running in four months.”

He was able to come back for the 2015 Oregon Ducks football season yet was not a factor in the offense. He competed for Oregon in 2016 and qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics by winning the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 13.03 at the U.S. Olympic Trial in Eugene, Oregon.

He said he is excited to go to compete in this year’s games and to see USA men’s basketball team contend for a gold medal.

“Winning a gold medal is the pinnacle of the sport of track and field,” Allen said. “I think the experience of traveling the world, meet new people, see new cultures and places is interesting to me.”

By John Alvarado, Cronkite News