Entering the last lap of the 400-meter dash final of last year’s SEC Championship, Kahmari Montgomery was in last place. By the end of the lap, he was an SEC champion.
Proving his legitimacy as a successful athlete, Montgomery, now a sophomore, became an SEC champion with a school-record 45.13 seconds during the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He ended his freshman season as a second-team All-American and finished with school records in the indoor 200-meter dash (21.03 seconds) and 400-meter dash (45.78 seconds).
“It was something that we had kind of talked about during his recruiting process out of high school,” assistant and sprints coach Carjay Lyles said. “[Winning the SEC title] was a realistic expectation during fall training. I was more relieved that he met the expectations that we had set.”
This year, Montgomery has his eyes set on repeating as champion and proving to everyone that his freshman campaign was no fluke. So this year, he said he feels more pressure.
“It is not a pressure that I should be nervous or scared about, but it’s like a ‘I am ready, I am back,’” Montgomery said. “I think this year is going to be something even more special than last year.”
He recently ran his first 400-meter dash of the season at the Razorback Invitational, finishing in fifth place with a time of 46.57 seconds.
“It does not really matter to me if I am the underdog or favorite,” Montgomery said. “I have been both the underdog and the favorite. I’ve been an enemy too. It all does not really matter to me.”
Montgomery is relatively new to the sport — he began running track and field his sophomore year of high school. He has already adjusted to the pressures and level of work athletes must put in to be able to compete at the SEC level.
“Last year, the biggest thing was just to understand the level of track and field he was on,” Lyles said. “As a sprinter in the SEC, you are competing against Olympians and the best in the country. It was all about mentally preparing him to know, ‘I am one of the best out there.’ This year was to make sure to prepare his body for the next level of performances he needs to do to defend his title and more. We want to push the physical limits to show him what he can actually do.”
Montgomery placed ninth at the NCAA Championships last year with a 45.81 second time, which was one place off from qualifying for the finals. However, his best time, 45.13, ranked him sixth among all collegiate athletes. Heading into the 2017 season, his best time ranked him fourth in the nation collegiately.
“This year, it is all about winning,” Lyles said. “[At the] national championships last year, we had mishaps. This year’s goal is to win the big races and big meets. Our race pace is to do anything to win. If the pace slacks off, then we are ready for it. If it comes out fast, then we are ready for it. We are using the [Bill] Belichick playbook to prepare for anything.”
Belichick's New England Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month. Lyles and Montgomery are looking to have similar success this season.
Montgomery is no stranger to success. His junior year of high school, only his second year of running track and field, he won the 200-meter and 400-meter dash with times of 21.25 and 46.82 seconds, respectively, for the Illinois High School Association 3A Track and Field State Finals. His senior season, he completed something no one else had done before by winning the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dash at the 3A Illinois state championships. He finished with 10.50 seconds in the 100, 20.96 in the 200 and a 46.24 in the 400-meter dash, to win each.
“It was great in high school,” Montgomery said. “I was not expecting to come out being one of Illinois’ top sprinters. I used it as motivation that I can do anything, that I should not be afraid of anything no matter who I am racing against. It motivated me to basically pick up where I left off.”
He finished second all-time in the 400 among Illinois athletes, only behind Jermar Collins of Wheaton Warrenville South, who ran a 46.2. Montgomery’s time in the 200 also ranks him sixth all-time in Illinois.
When it comes to pre-race rituals, Lyles likes to remind Montgomery beforehand that both he and Montgomery are the best at what they do. They both say it is a joke between the two of them to relieve the pressure and stress they both face.
“It takes the pressure off of him and it takes the pressure off of me,” Lyles said. “We just kind of let it happen.”
Last year, Montgomery’s 45.13 time was ranked 36th in the world. He will look to improve this ranking this year.
To accomplish that, Montgomery continues to prepare to defend his title next week at the SEC Championships in Nashville, Tennessee.
Edited by Eli Lederman | firstname.lastname@example.org