How fast can Michael Norman run this year?
No-one lays down a marker for the season on the track in April.
Try telling that to Michael Norman.
On his professional debut at the Mt SAC Relays in California on 20 April, the 21-year-old won the 400m in a seriously quick time of 43.45 seconds.
"I wasn't expecting to run that fast. To come here and run that fast is just mind-blowing!" - Michael Norman speaking to DyeStat after his win at the Mt SAC Relays.
He followed that up with an impressive 19.84 clocking in his 200m season opener at the Golden Grand Prix Osaka equalling his lifetime best.
"I'm pretty happy with the performance, time-wise," he said. "I just didn't feel as though the intensity that I usually have during a 200m was there."
Talk about big ambitions!
Norman is the real deal bidding to win gold at the World Championships in Doha starting in late September.
A prodigious talent
Norman showed he was a star in the making at the start of 2018, breaking the indoor 400m world record in just his third try at the event.
While he competed at home for most of the season as he continued his studies at the University of Southern California, he made a big impression in his two races in Europe both in the Diamond League.
At the end of June, he won the 200m in Paris in a new personal best of 19.84s ahead of training partner and fellow USC student Rai Benjamin.
On combining the 200 and 400m, Norman told [track and field news](It’s a lot of fun, it breaks up training. You can’t always just run 400s every meet the whole year. I think it’s essential to get those shorter, more fast races in—especially earlier in the season.) "It’s a lot of fun, it breaks up training. You can’t always just run 400s every meet the whole year. I think it’s essential to get those shorter, more fast races in—especially earlier in the season."
A week later, he was second in Lausanne with winner Noah Lyles clocking the fastest time of the year.
This year however, Norman still has the 400m high on the agenda.
"This year I'll be bouncing between the 200 and the 400, but when it comes to championship time, championship season, I'll be focusing mainly on the 400." - Michael Norman speaking to DyeStat.
Ahead of schedule
Most athletes start from a steady base and improve as the season progresses.
But with Norman clocking 43.45 in April, the quickest seasonal debut in history, how fast can he go?
He certainly has more time on his hands to upgrade his performances having completed his degree in Communications in early May.
The Los Angeles-resident is now a full-time professional athlete, but he does not plan to change too much.
Norman will continue working with his college coaches Caryl Smith Gilbert and Quincy Watts, the double Olympic champion from Barcelona 1992.
And he has just four-tenths of a second to find to break van Niekerk's world record set in the final at Rio 2016.
"I would love to be the first person to run 42 [seconds]." - Michael Norman on 400m world record.
"I think that’s one of my biggest goals coming into these next two years." he told track and field news.
"If it’s not going to happen this year, it’s definitely going to happen next year, if it’s me or somebody else.”
All-time leading men's 400m times
1. 43.03 Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) 14/8/2016
2. 43.18 Michael Johnson (USA) 26/8/1999
3. 43.29 Butch Reynolds (USA) 17/8/1988
4. 43.39 Michael Johnson (USA) 09/08/1995
5. 43.44 Michael Johnson (USA) 19/6/1996
6. 43.45 Jeremy Wariner (USA) 31/8/2007
6. 43.45 Michael Norman (USA) 20/4/2019
Norman competes internationally for the first time in 2019 in Osaka, running the 200m at the IAAF World Challenge meeting on 19 May.
Norman is not normally a fan of travelling, but he's looking forward to going to Qatar.
In this longer-than-normal season, the 400m heats at the World Championships in the capital of Qatar will take place on 1 October.
And he's looking forward to visiting a new part of the globe.
He told Doha 2019, "I've never been to the Middle East or Doha but I’m really excited to go. I’m really looking forward to experiencing the culture and the city and what it is about."
"I can’t wait to go and showcase the hard work that I’ve done on my part." - Michael Norman on the 2019 World Championships
Norman also has ample encouragement from his good friend and training partner Benjamin.
Benjamin, the son of former West Indies cricketer Winston Benjamin, made as big an impression as Norman last year as he went joint-third on the all-time 400m hurdles list in winning the NCAA Championships in June.
His time of 47.02s equalled the old world record of the man who brought worldwide attention to the event, double Olympic champion Ed Moses.
The 21-year-old New Yorker, Benjamin - who represented Antigua and Barbuda as a junior - broke 20 seconds for 200m in Paris, and his 44.31 behind Norman at the Mt SAC Relays would have been good enough for silver at London 2012.
After that race, Norman said having Benjamin there helped him achieve his stellar time.
"We were going out there to not only execute our race but going to have fun and push ourselves to these elevated levels." Norman told DyeStat.
"Really happy with both our performances and I'm sure we can have a really bright future ahead."
"Bright" could be something of an understatement.