Nothing compares to the roar of a crowd in a stadium, as the best of the best speed past during the most anticipated race of a meet. For Mike Rodgers, these 100 meters of glory are his everything.
The 36-year-old professional sprinter has a personal best of 9.85 seconds in the 100-meter dash. This record, which he locked in at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon in 2011, is the 14th all-time best men’s 100-meter in the world.
But this is not where his story begins. Even though he may not have always known it, Rodgers was born to run.
For Rodgers, it all began on the high school football field. A varsity corner and wide receiver at the time for Berkeley High School (which is now McCluer South-Berkeley High School) in Ferguson, Missouri, Rodgers thought football was the path he wanted to take. But others saw potential in a sport he didn’t even think about.
It was his driver’s education teacher, Rod Staggs, who first introduced Rodgers to track and field. Staggs happened to also be the track coach at Rodgers’ high school. He had seen Rodgers on the football field and approached him about coming out for the track team.
At first, Rodgers said no, but a very persistent Coach Staggs kept on asking. Eventually giving in, Rodgers joined the Berkeley track and field team his junior year of high school, competing in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter, 4×100 relay and 4×400 relay.
“I was getting smoked in the open races in the beginning of the year,” Rodgers says. However, his coach kept encouraging him.“He was like, ‘You have so much potential if you just put forth a little effort.’”
With Coach Staggs’ encouragement in mind, Rodgers began focusing on the open races right before that year’s district track meet. Once he did that, Rodgers excelled in the sport. That year he won the Missouri State Championship in the men’s 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter and the 4×400 relay.
After high school, Rodgers briefly attended Iowa State University but soon transferred to a small school in St. Charles, Missouri called Lindenwood University, where his previous high school coach — Coach Staggs — had just gotten a job.
After the transfer, Rodgers joined the track and basketball teams. Rodgers was excelling at both, causing the coaches to feud over him missing a basketball game or a track meet. When that happened, Rodgers knew he had to pick between the sports and made a critical career decision. He chose track.
“I never initially went to school just for track,” Rodgers says. “It just ended up being that way because of how the cards fell.”
After a shift in the coaching staff at Lindenwood, Rodgers transferred to Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Oklahoma Baptist was Lindenwood’s track and field rival, so Rodgers knew they were good. He also knew that, at the time, they didn’t have very many sprinters. Taking a chance, Rodgers finished his collegiate career at the rival school. Luckily, that chance really paid off.
While training for the 400-meter and 200-meter at Oklahoma Baptist, Rodgers found himself improving as an athlete and asked if he could run the 100-meter at the next meet.
His coach agreed and Rodgers ran the 100-meter at the conference meet that year — a race that Rodgers believes jump-started his career, as he ran the event in 10.07 seconds.
“The sky was the limit after that,” Rodgers says. “That’s pretty fast for a college guy. I had a lot of people looking out for me after that.”
In 2008, Rodgers got his first look at the Olympics when he competed in the Olympic Trials. He ended up getting 8th, running a 10.01-second 100-meter. After this race, he realized that if he could tweak some things and get a little stronger, then he would make the team when the Olympics rolled around again.
And that he did. In the 2012 Olympic Trials, Rodgers got 4th in the 100-meter with a 9.94-second run, securing his spot on the U.S.A.’s Olympic Team. However, when Rodgers arrived at the games, he didn’t pass his physical due to a stress fracture in his foot. This injury cost him the chance to compete and, unfortunately, Rodgers was sent home.
In 2016, Rodgers was still struggling with injuries but was selected to compete on the 4×100 relay team. This was the first time Rodgers would compete in an Olympic stadium. He ran the first leg of the race, passing the baton off to Justin Gatlin. The team crossed the finish line in third place, only to find out they had been disqualified for Rodgers and Gatlin’s handoff, which had occurred before the allotted zone.
“I have just been having tough breaks at the [Olympic] games,” Rodgers says.
In March 2020, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games were officially postponed to an unannounced later date, causing Rodgers to hit another tough break.
When the Olympics were rescheduled, “I was distraught,” Rodgers says. “I didn’t know what to do, to be honest. Track was my everything. It was what I did everyday. I would wake up and go train.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodgers was lucky, as a lot of his trainers have their own personal gyms and he didn’t have to forgo training. He was able to continue training, but he had to get creative. Since most public tracks were closed, Rodgers would train in parks or garages to keep his strength and mobility up.
“Whatever we could do, we were doing,” he says. “I feel like the extra time prepared me to be better than ever for this year. COVID really changed my perspective and made me appreciate running track.”
The 2020 Olympics have been rescheduled for July 23, 2021, through August 8, 2021. Unfortunately, Rodgers had a tough break at the 2021 Olympic Trials and did not make the 100-meter, but his positive attitude still shines through.
“I’ll be back healthy and better next year,” Rodgers tweets after the semi-final 100-meter race at the Olympic Trials. “Just have to get back to the grind. My achilles and procedure held me back, [so I] I was not at my best at this year’s trials, was [still] battling it. [I] gave it a go, but next year I’ll be back!”
In addition to loving the adrenaline aspect that comes hand-in-hand with being a professional sprinter, he shares that he has also learned so much from the sport, especially when it comes to accountability and responsibility.
“You have little kids looking up to you,” Rodgers says. “You have people’s parents looking up to you. So it is a lot of responsibility once you get on that platform to set an example for the younger generation to become pros or elite like you are.”
When asked if he made the right decision back in college when he had to pick between basketball and track, Rodgers laughs.
“I am short anyway,” he jokes. “The NBA would have been like, ‘You’re too little to play with us.’ I know I made the right decision going with track.”