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At-sea sprinter? Track star-turned-yeoman on his path to the fleet

Jul. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Yeoman Seaman Rodney Martin stands in front of Naval Technical Training Center Meridian, Miss., where he graduated from yeoman 'A' school on June 13.
Yeoman Seaman Rodney Martin stands in front of Naval Technical Training Center Meridian, Miss., where he graduated from yeoman 'A' school on June 13. (Penny Randall/Navy)
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Rodney Martin tears up the track during the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, as a member of Team USA. (Mark Baker / The Associated Press)

Six years removed from his moment on the Olympic stage, a world-class sprinter stands poised to begin his return to glory.

It’s where he’s standing that’s unusual: In front of Naval Technical Training Center Meridian, Mississippi, where he recently attended yeoman “A” school.

Yeoman Seaman Rodney Martin earned a gold medal in the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, as a member of Team USA’s 4x100-meter relay quartet. He ran in the lead spot in the same event in the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing; a late-race baton exchange knocked the U.S. off the medal stand.

After skipping Olympic qualifying in 2012 for lack of training funds, Martin decided to try again for the 2016 games in Rio de Janiero. Also, at age 31, he knew it was time to begin planning for life after sprinting.

That led him to the military, and after weighing the elite-athlete programs offered by the Navy, Army and Air Force, Martin decided to don the Dixie cup.

“I know I have a gift, and to use my gift for my country is pretty much what I’m doing anyway, running for Team USA,” Martin said in a June 26 phone interview, adding that representing the Navy “is something that’s never been done before for sprinters, and I want to pave the way. That’s a legacy I want to be a part of.”

He enlisted in February, made it through boot camp with a host of teenage recruits — “I guess you could say I’ve been a mentor. ... I didn’t know I was that old” — then graduated “A” school June 14 with the highest grades in his class, he said.

His efforts won at least one new fan.

“He is the embodiment of our core values, truly believes in being a part of something bigger than himself and represents the finest our nation has to offer,” said Cmdr. Robert Stockton, head of the training center, in a Navy news release.

Stockton’s support is a critical early step for Martin as he learns another part of Navy life — paperwork. The track star must apply for a spot in the All-Navy Sports program, earning the right to divert from his career path (next stop would be submarine school if he gets his top-secret clearance, he said) and into Olympic-level training.

He would compete as a representative of the Navy should officials view it as a worthwhile investment — the Army’s version of this setup, the World Class Athlete Program, sent several Olympians to the 2012 London games, primarily wrestlers and marksmen.

“Being an ambassador, that’s the easy part,” Martin said. “The Navy has shown me there’s a lot of opportunities if you can take advantage of them. I don’t know if everybody’s cut out for them, but if you’re dedicated and driven, then yes, you can be successful.”

After missing an Olympic cycle, Martin may seem like a long shot to return to Team USA, but his personal-best time in the 100 meters, 9.95 seconds, would’ve been fifth on the entry list for the team’s 2012 qualifying. And he’s about a year younger than Justin Gatlin, who has been the fastest American in the 100 this year with times only a few hundredths of a second faster than Martin’s top run.

As for the Navy’s fitness program?

“I’m ‘outstanding’ on all of my [physical fitness assessments],” he said with a laugh, when asked to offer his critique. “I’m going to say ... it’s working. Let’s just leave it there. As far as the average person coming into the Navy, it’s great for them.”

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