More than likely, like the rest of the provincial world, you have not paid attention to track at the University of Georgia, where the sport’s signature highlight came and went in a flash more than three-quarters of a century ago.
That was when Spec Towns, a freckled native of Augusta, the consummate diamond in the rough, took to training under a fellow named Weems Baskin, with an ambition and commitment that was to set him apart. Physically constructed to near perfection as a high hurdler — Towns could straddle a high hurdle flat-footed — becoming the best in the world, winning the Olympics and setting a high-hurdles record afterwards in Oslo, Norway, that stood for a decade and a half.
There have been some high moments since then, but not that much to write home about. Track was a low budget sport for years, benefitting from a temporary uptick when a superstar like Herschel Walker became a member of the team but the program never sustained any consistency of success and momentum.
That is until Petros Kyprianou became the Georgia head track coach and worked his recruiting magic to bring some of the best talent in the world to Athens, headlined lately by Matthew Boling, a wiry Texan who obviously is the best raw talent to wear the Red and Black since Towns.
Boling is 6 feet tall and weighs 160 pounds, a curly-haired Adonis who is soft-spoken and introspective with a modest bent which will bring him to constant disclaimers when his performances and abilities are assessed. He wants the stopwatch to do the talking. He aspires to be the well-rounded individual who contributes to his team and to Georgia’s future.
When Kyprianou talks, Boling listens. The student likes it that his coach has figured out a way for Bulldog teams to win two national championships (and three runner-up finishes) in three years, the first in Georgia history, pulling off those feats with a lesser scholarship budget and lesser personnel numbers.
Matthew knows he has a coach who is on top of everything that an Olympic expectant could want. Matthew wants to excel but wants his team to distinguish itself. He wants to be a good teammate. He wants to enjoy the college experience. He is one athlete who will train with the greatest of commitment, but you won’t find him cutting any classes at the Terry College of Business.
There is the undeniable fact of life that he has to deal with. A degree is something of value, but he knows that he will have to honor the physiological edicts of life. You are only young once and the prime competition years of his life are the same years that matriculation takes place. He must be pragmatic and one would think that he would be one of those exceptional athletes who will test himself against the best in the world, without losing touch with the commitment to someday earn a degree. He likes football and was on a high after Georgia defeated Notre Dame earlier in the fall like the rest of the student body. The crowd, the traditions and the atmosphere with Georgia’s pace setting LED lighting displays which everybody from students to graybeards swooned to in an unforgettable campus evening. He gloried in sitting in the student section and experiencing the life of a college student.
Boling enjoyed watching the players on the team, having met many of them, dating back to late summer chicanery concocted by Coach Kirby Smart. The drudgery of football practice day after day after day is something that causes football coaches to try to bring some levity to the atmosphere. The football coach called Coach Petros and asked if Matthew would participate in a scheme to enable the football team to have some fun. Kirby organized a footrace between the players and coaches with the players getting time off if they won the race. Kirby installed himself as the anchor of the coach’s team. Never has a team been more confident of victory than the players who were whooping it up when their team handed the baton off to their anchor who had at least a 20-yard lead. When it was time for the baton to be handed off to Coach Smart, up steps Boling who took the baton and bolted like a meteor to the lead, saving the day for the coaching staff team. The football players, upon realizing what had taken place, all raced to meet Boling. They literally engulfed him.
Being a good college student is important to Boling and his family, who has moved to Atlanta to be close to Matthew and his twin brother, Michael, who is a freshman at Georgia Tech.
Recently in a relaxed conversation with Boling and his coach, it was readily confirmed that there is a mutual admiration society with the player and the coach. The player wants to see the team reach new heights. The coach wants to make sure that his multi-talented star (Matthew exceled in high school in several field events including the long jump.) has the best in training for the larger goals of his career.
Matthew was attracted to Kyprianou’s coaching way, which is to help Matthew to develop on a fast track to being the best in the world. Petros made no bones about it when he was recruiting Matthew. Petros wants Matthew to become the beneficiary of the kind of training that will make his prized athlete the highest paid athlete in the world.
Already, Matthew has streamlined his focus. The night before a meet, he stretches for an hour or more and takes Epson salt baths. Prior to a meet he watches videos of world class athletes he wants to emulate. On the bus to meets, he sits quietly and listens to music, developing intense and rigid concentration, befitting a focused world class athlete. At a meet, he soaks in the atmosphere, enjoying the sights and sounds of competition and the venue.
Dating back to the sixth grade, Matthew was “not very good,” but when he turned 16, he began beating everybody which brought about an insatiable appetite to win at everything all the time. He likes performing before big crowds finding that he can use the energy of the crowd to push him to do better.
With Petros, they dote on the latest training exercises and give weight training high priority. Petros has an exalted reputation for being a training expert in the area of strength and conditioning. The coach’s indefatigable style is a perfect fit for Matthew who gets the highest marks for merging the best in training methods with a remarkable work ethic and exemplary attitude.
Come spring, it is going to be a challenge for people to see this young genius perform. Matthew Boling is the Herschel Walker of the track world and he is ensconced on the Georgia campus all set to bloom gloriously in the spring with the azaleas and the dogwoods.