Unlike one of his 100-meter races, Ifrish Alberg’s path to his current status as the fastest man in Suriname took anything but a straight line.
Alberg, a junior on the East Tennessee State track team, set Suriname’s national record in the 100-meter dash in the Bucs’ first outdoor meet of the season. He ran a 10.31 at the 49er Classic in Charlotte last weekend.
“When I saw it was 10.31, I went crazy,” Alberg said. “I started jumping. I was a little emotional. Working so hard with ups and downs.
“This is just how life is. Some people think success is a straight line. I say success is more like ... it goes all over and then you go to your destination.”
Six years ago, Alberg decided to become a sprinter. It was quite a chance he was taking, considering that he was flourishing as a soccer player and his country, the smallest in South America, doesn’t even have a 400-meter track.
He asked a coach if he could give running a try, brashly proclaiming he’d beat all the current sprinters.
“I said ‘They’re gonna leave me in the beginning, but I’m gonna catch them and beat them,’ ” Alberg said. “He was laughing.
“I came back in two days and I went in a national competition, and I beat everybody. From that moment on, he said to me ‘You can become a great sprinter, but it’s gonna take a lot of sacrificing.’ I haven’t touched a soccer ball in a couple of years now.”
When Alberg was approached about running for a university in the United States, he thought it sounded like a good idea. After sending out a resume, some schools began to call.
ETSU assistant coach Brandon Morton was the most persistent, saying Alberg would be able to run a 10.2 with a little of his coaching. So Alberg chose to join the Bucs, and he’s won Atlantic Sun Conference sprint championships indoors and outdoors.
“I like it here,” Alberg said. “The weather is the only problem I have. The weather acts sometimes like a woman. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. Tomorrow you have a monsoon, then you have a hurricane then a tornado. I already adapted.”
Morton and Alberg hit it off, and the results are beginning to surface.
“We’re on the right path,” Alberg said. “The coach can only bring you so far. As an athlete, you have to do things the right way. He’s got to make sure you have the right training and the right feedback, but you have to make sure what you eat, how well you take his advice.”
Morton says the student has taken well to his teaching.
“That’s the difference between a great sprinter and a decent sprinter,” Morton said. “His character is through the roof. I know he’s doing the right things when I’m not watching. That makes a huge difference.”
Alberg’s time in the year’s first outdoor meet was .15 of a second faster than his best previous time.
“I knew it would come eventually,” Morton said. “I didn’t know it would come that early. He had decent competition, but he literally blew the field away. To run that fast in the first meet surprised me, but at the same time I knew it was very much possible.”
Alberg broke the former Suriname record of 10.32, set in 1982 by Sammy Monsels at Modesto, Calif.
“It’s been recognized by the Suriname athletic federation as a national record,” said Alberg, who hopes to represent his country in this August’s World Championships in Moscow. “Everybody was excited. It was actually a big thing the last couple of days.”
He won’t be going home until after the school year -- and, he hopes, the NCAA championships -- so any celebration in Suriname will have to wait.
“It’s going to be a little party, or recognition,” Alberg said. “The record stood a really long time. I had journalists back home calling me. It was out there. All my friends are wishing me good luck for the rest of the season.”
Alberg’s season will continue March 29-30 at the Raleigh Relays.