Hunger drives Rodgers on and off track

U.S. sprinter Michael Rodgers earned a silver medal at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow in the 4x100-meter relay. (USATF photo)

There’s a hunger that drives Mike Rodgers to be the best he can be in the 100 meters. As a fledgling businessman, he’s also counting on hunger to drive people to check out his new food truck in Austin, Texas, called “The Best Yet.”

The truck will be fully operational the week of June 22, serving up Cajun, Creole and “American’’ fare as prepared by a Cordon Bleu graduate and master chef.

“I am the boss,’’ Rodgers said. “I do the hiring and firing and ideas for the menu. I’ve been doing research. It’s a great, golden age of food trucks.’’

And Austin, where Rodgers has lived and trained for the past seven years, is a perfect town in which to park a food truck, given its lively music scene and as the home of the University of Texas with its nearly 40,000 students.

“It’s a pretty cool town,’’ Rodgers said. “The people are so nice. It’s diverse. There’s so much you can do with all the music and food.’’

At the age of 30, Rodgers is sprinting well heading into the 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field next week (June 25-29). He ran 9.90 seconds in finishing second to Tyson Gay at the Prefontaine Classic on May 30 and is hoping to make his third World Championships team in the 100. His personal best is 9.85 from 2011.

Rodgers won the off-year U.S. championship in 2014 as well as dashes at the London and Paris Diamond League stops, with a seasonal best of 9.91 seconds. That earned him Track & Field News’ No. 2 world ranking last year, but it nevertheless left him far behind the scintillating season of Justin Gatlin, who was undefeated in 13 meets and ran 9.77.

“Training’s been going really well,’’ Rodgers said. “I’m really anxious to open up. I’ve gone through the first half of my training healthy. It’s the first time in two years I’ve been completely healthy. I’ve got a good base in. I feel like I’m going to do something special this year.’’

Rodgers noted that he broke an ankle during the 2014 indoor season and still managed to compete well during the outdoor season that culminated in a No. 2 ranking.

“I still ran fast last year,’’ he said. “But I got behind in conditioning and Gatlin got way ahead of me last year. I was the closest to him all year at Pre.’’

In 2014, Gatlin won the Pre 100m in a wind-aided 9.76, with Rodgers just behind him in 9.80. The two sprinters have already seen a lot of each other in 2015, at Doha, Pre, Rome, Birmingham, because, “We pretty much have the same schedule. I’ll be race-ready. Nothing will be holding me back this year.’’

With Gatlin winning last year’s Diamond League title to earn a bye into the World Championships, the U.S. will be sending four 100-meter men to Beijing in August. Rodgers wants to be one of them.

“I’m pretty sure it will be pretty tough,’’ Rodgers said. “We have a bye, so I don’t think it will be as tough to make the team. I want to go to Beijing and medal.’’

While he’s away earning money to fund his food truck, Rodgers will rely on master chef Jessica Marshall and his god-brother Joshua Houston to keep the business percolating. Rodgers became interested in the food truck industry when he learned that an Austin-based food truck serving up donuts generated about $300,000 annually. That’s a whole lot of dough.

“Three hundred thousand, minimum,’’ he said. “I got real interested after that. Hopefully, the food truck will pay for my kids to go to college.’’

College is a ways off yet for his two sons, Braylon, 3, and Amari, four months, but there’s no time like now to start that college fund.

Rodgers had Braylon with him in the Bahamas when he ran the 4×100-meter relay with his U.S. teammates, Gatlin, Gay and Ryan Bailey, at the IAAF World Relays. While that’s certainly an imposing quartet, Rodgers noted with amusement that his son “thinks he’s faster than me.’’

At that early-season showdown in Nassau, Rodgers led off a U.S. 4×100 relay team that ran 37.38 seconds to leave Jamaica and Usain Bolt a well-beaten second in 37.58. Rodgers got the team off to a cracking good start and watched as Gatlin, Gay and Bailey finished off what would equal the fastest time in U.S. history.

“It’s always fun,’’ Rodgers said of relay running. “We always have a good rivalry with Jamaica. I feel like the last few times in our races we didn’t put our best team on the track. This time, I think we do have our best team.’’

While Rodgers is primarily a 100-meter specialist, he said he wants to run a few 200-meter races this season and bring his PR down from the 20.24 he ran in 2009.

“I want to run some 200s this summer,’’ he said. “I’m pretty good at it. I just haven’t run it much. I think I can go sub-20. It was 2009 the last time I took the 200 serious and I’m way better than that now.’’

As a veteran sprinter, the next two years figure to be the most important of Rodgers’ career with a World Championships and an Olympic Games in the offing. He’s yet to make an Olympic team, although he has worn a USA singlet at two World Championships, in 2009 and 2013.

Rodgers was picked to finish second in the 100 meters at the USATF Outdoor Championships by the experts at Track & Field News magazine in the latest form chart.

In the meantime, there’s his venture into the food truck industry. Will “The Best Yet” resonate with hungry folks in Austin, pouring out of various music venues and looking for something tasty? His kids’ college fund may depend on just that.

Previous TTUSA stories by John Crumpacker:

Felix lays groundwork for Olympic year

Jager hopes to lower U.S. record in steeplechase

Best still to come for U.S. triple jumper

Olympian inspired by motherhood

John Crumpacker was a sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle for more than three decades. In that time he won seven national writing awards and covered 10 Olympic Games. He was president of the Track & Field Writers of America on two occasions.