EUGENE — Devon Allen had already rehearsed the celebration in his mind, so after lunging across the finish line to win the 110-meter hurdles on Saturday night at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, he just kept running.
When he reached the 8-foot railing that separates the track from the southern stands at Hayward Field, he leapt up and over it and hurried through the crowd to his family, babbling words of joy along the way.
“It felt like a football game,” Allen said of the atmosphere and his version of the Lambeau Leap. “It felt like Autzen Stadium after a touchdown,” he added.
Allen, 21, would know well. He plays wide receiver for Oregon and has felt the Ducks’ football stadium erupt on numerous occasions during the past two years. But this year, he shifted his focus to the hurdles, winning his second NCAA title and preparing for the trials. It paid off Saturday with a winning time of 13.03 seconds, the second-fastest time in the world this year, securing him a spot at the Olympics next month in Rio de Janeiro.
Afterward, a reporter asked him whether he was a football player who ran track or a runner who played football.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Allen said. “I’m just an athlete who likes to play football and run track.”
The description could have applied to many other athletes at the trials, which concluded Sunday. The two sports have long shared a history, and across disparate events in Eugene, football felt like a constant topic of discussion among a certain subset of athletes.
There was, among others, Marquise Goodwin, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills, who got coach Rex Ryan’s blessing to step away from the NFL team this summer to compete in the long jump. There was Marvin Bracy, who quit the Florida State football team three years ago to become a professional sprinter. There was Tim White, who continued working out with the Arizona State football team until the end of June, leaving him about five days to shift his focus back to the triple jump — a short time to tackle a lifelong goal.
Together, they represented anomalies in the high-stakes, specialized world of modern professional sports. They pointed to passion and their love of competition to explain their dual pursuits. They acknowledged wondering whether it would be more prudent to focus on just one sport or the other.
“I ask myself that a lot,” said Jeff Demps, a sprinter who bounced around the NFL as a running back for three years after helping the American 4x100 relay team win silver at the 2012 Games in London. “Like, man, if I was focused on this, would I have been great in this, or what if I had been focused on that?”
Demps failed to qualify for the Olympics this time around, and immediately after his race he was deciding his next move.
“Trying to focus on both sports is tough,” he said. “I couldn’t really dedicate myself fully. But I don’t regret anything.”
The crossover potential between the two sports has long been obvious. Track and field tests elemental athletic skills. Football stages those traits inside the constructs of a game. Explosiveness, in both, is valued above all.
Allen caught 41 passes and scored seven touchdowns in his freshman year before tearing an ACL in the Rose Bowl that season. The injury ruined his 2015 track season and diminished his effectiveness that year in football. This spring he attended football workouts, but only to watch. He said he generally drops about 10 pounds while transitioning from football to track.
Jamie Cook, who coaches Allen at Oregon, said Allen had used his dual participation to his benefit. Cook did not know whether Allen would ever pick one sport or the other — and if so, which he would pick — but Cook also said he could envision Allen doing both for years to come.
“Being athletic is being athletic,” Cook said. “Human movement is very similar in a lot of different sports. It’s just a question of, how do you translate the little nuances?”
The lure of football has even been strong enough for Justin Gatlin, the country’s top sprinter, who won the 100 and 200 at the trials. He tried out for multiple NFL teams — including the Houston Texans, the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — during a doping ban that lasted from 2006 to 2010. He had not played football since the 10th grade, and, predictably, there were hiccups. He had trouble memorizing plays. He saw himself as a cornerback, but teams told him he was a receiver.
“I’d go out there and cut left when I was supposed to cut right,” Gatlin said.
But there have been countless successful crossover stories. Bob Hayes remains the only man to win Olympic gold medals (1964 in the 100 and 4x100) and a Super Bowl ring (1972 with the Dallas Cowboys). Renaldo Nehemiah, Gatlin’s manager, was a world-record holder in the 110 hurdles and won a Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49ers in 1984, despite not playing football in college.
Jim Hines, who won gold medals in the 100 meters and the 4x100 relay at the 1968 Games, was drafted in the sixth round during the 1968 NFL draft. He was given the nickname “Oops” for his lack of dexterity.
These days, two-sport athletes feel somewhat like throwbacks. The preciousness of time forces them to make certain sacrifices. In track, the technical minutiae of body movements take countless hours to perfect. In football, there are plays to learn, muscles to build and camaraderie to foster among teammates.
Goodwin, 25, who made the 2012 Olympics in the long jump, recognized he was risking his standing with the Bills. But he said he did not like to ponder hypotheticals.
“A lot of people wonder: What if you do this? What if you hurt this? What if you do that?” Goodwin said. “I have to accept the consequences for my actions. I’m willing to do that.”
Goodwin failed to qualify in Eugene, and as he prepared to go home, he pointed out his lack of preparation.
“These guys do it 100 percent of the time, and here I am, I came out here in January and I started competing,” he said of his competitors. “I made it this far.”
It was a similar story for White, who had 57 catches and eight touchdowns for Arizona State in 2015. This spring, he bounced back and forth between the two sports, sometimes working out for both in a single day, and was practicing primarily with the football team until June 24.
“I felt that I could do it,” said White, who described his triple jump performance at the trials as awful. “I still feel that I could have done it if I had the time and I was able to put that time in.”
Even Bracy, who is now a full-time track athlete and took third place in 100-meter final to make the Olympics, conceded that there were times when his mind had wandered back to football.
“When I’m doing bad, I’m like, ‘Dang, man, I could have stayed in college and played football for this,’” Bracy said. “Sometimes you’re going to have those days when stuff is not clicking, and you don’t know what’s best for you. Then you’re going to have those days like this, when you come out and you make your first Olympic team, and you know that everything you’ve devoted yourself to has paid off.”
No one — not Allen, his coach or his family — seemed to know Saturday whether he would make a similar decision and pick one sport.
“It seems to me Devon loves the sport that’s in season,” said Louis Allen, his father. “I would assume that after the Olympics are over, he’ll probably focus on football again, and he’ll be out here on Saturday playing with his teammates.”
In fact, he said, his son was thinking, half-seriously, of soon taking on another track and field event — the decathlon.