By Tim Graham
PITTSFORD -- Buffalo Bills receiver T.J. Graham will be riveted to his television for this weekend's 100-meter dashes at the Olympics.
"I like the flash," he told me after a recent practice at St. John Fisher College. "I like the attention. When the 100's on, everyone's quiet. Everyone's watching."
Graham understands the race more than most, as detailed in a story I wrote for this morning's editions of The Buffalo News. He has run the 100 at a high level, competing at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
He considers top U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin a big brother. Graham also ran against Ryan Bailey, the No. 3 American, in high school.
Graham's father, Trevor Graham, was on Jamaica's 4x400-meter relay team that won silver in the 1988 Olympics. Trevor Graham went on to coach elite sprinters such as Gatlin, Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones before getting entangled in the BALCO performance-enhancing drug ordeal.
T.J. Graham has been around the sprinting world since he was a tyke. Given his intimate knowledge of the sport, I asked him to handicap this weekend's races. The preliminaries will be Saturday. The semifinals and final will happen Sunday.
* 1, Usain Bolt (Jamaica); 2, Justin Gatlin (USA); 3, wild card.
* 1, Usain Bolt (Jamaica); 2, Tyson Gay (USA); 3, Justin Gatlin (USA).
The 100 meters is the classic "either you have it or you don't" sprint. But T.J. Graham explained what subtleties can make the difference within those 10 seconds.
"Everything has to be perfect, flawless, through the start, your drive phase, transition phase, acceleration phase," T.J. Graham said, certainly repeating the words of his father. "You have to come through the transitions and make them smooth so that you press the other guy to break his form.
"That's what usually gets guys. Another runner will get out ahead and maybe a guy is very technically sound and usually wins races, but he may break his stride or form that day because he sees someone in front of him. Or a guy with closing speed like Bolt may really destroy someone else's technique. You might have a nice start and then you feel like you're getting into your next phase and then see Bolt already in his third phase, going by you.
"It's a crazy race in that short period of time because there's not much you can do. Once a guy get's going, he's gone."
A nice wrinkle to T.J. Graham's insight is that he closely monitors the sprint scenes in the U.S. and Jamaica. If he ever did want to compete internationally, then he would have the option of declaring either as his home country because a parent was born in each.
"I pull for either one," T.J. Graham said. "I went to the Penn Relays and watched the Jamaicans run against the U.S., and I don't know who to cheer for.
"But I'm a Justin Gatlin fan. I'm pulling for him to see if he can do it out again. I know he's been through a lot, and he's trying to come back and get back on his feet.
"I don't think Jamaicans are going to get two medalists. I think the Americans are going to do well."
T.J. Graham also picked a dark horse.
"Ryan Bailey's going to surprise a lot of people," T.J. Graham said. "That's a monster right there.
"Those are the ones you always look out for. They'll sneak in there. Francis Obikwelu eight years ago, I didn't know who he was. But he sneaked in there [to win silver for Nigeria in Athens]. Those guys are wild cards. You can't predict those because it's one race. The fastest guy that day wins."
He admitted he's biased when it comes to Bailey. When they were in high school, T.J. Graham finished third to Bailey in the junior national championships.
"I want to tell my kids that I used to run against that guy when I was younger," T.J. Graham said, "that 'I was good enough to run in the Olympics but I chose football.' It makes a better story."
One of the darlings of this year's 100 meters is Jamaican Yohan Blake, but T.J. Graham is skeptical. Blake is only 22 years old and in his first Olympics.
"I'm real intrigued to see how Yohan Blake turns out," T.J. Graham said. "He's young. It just depends on how he handles the pressure from the Olympics. You know Bolt's been there before. Asafa's been there before. Gatlin, Gay, everyone's been there before. But Blake needs to handle the pressure."
Usain Bolt, Jamaica 8/11
Yohan Blake, Jamaica 13/8
Tyson Gay, USA 10/1
Justin Gatlin, USA 16/1
Asafa Powell, Jamaica 20/1
Ryan Bailey, USA 33/1
Keston Bledman, Tri 66/1
Adam Gemili, GB 100/1
Daniel Bailey, Ant 100/1
Kemar Hyman, Cay 100/1
Jaysuma Saidy Ndure, Gam 150/1
Richard Thompson, Tri 200/1
Dwain Chambers, GB 200/1
James Dassaolu, GB 500/1
I asked T.J. Graham if he thought he would be in their class had he concentrated solely on track and didn't have such a passion for football.
"Since Mr. Bailey made it I feel that I could be right there next to him," he replied. "But I like my career choice a lot better.
"The sport of track and field is lacking revenue right now. In order to make money, it's really hard. You've got to be Bolt status to make any kind of living like a professional athlete. Most other times you live day to day, have to get another job or go run track overseas.
"There are guys I'm watching on TV, and feel I can compete with them. I love to go out there and run. I do miss it sometimes."
(Photo: Associated Press)