BLOOMINGTON — Track and field’s low profile on the American sports landscape is in need of a superhero to help lift its popularity.
Bershawn “Batman” Jackson will be trying to do his small part to lift track’s profile when he visits the AAU Northern Indoor National Championships Friday through Sunday at Shirk Center.
The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles will be greeting as many of the expected 1,000 age-group athletes as he can Saturday, signing autographs and posing for photos. He will present awards to the finalists Sunday.
“I want them to know the sky is the limit,” said Jackson, who was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2010 by Track and Field News and had a world-leading best of 47.32 seconds. “Anything they put their mind to, they can achieve.”
Jackson, 27, of Raleigh, N.C., has used that philosophy to overcome being one of the smallest men in his event at 5-foot-8 and 158 pounds.
“They’ve got the height, but I’ve got the guts and heart,” Jackson said. “I’m a warrior and a fighter.”
Jackson certainly came up big in 2005 when he clocked a career best 47.30 while winning the world title and earning his only other No. 1 world ranking.
He remained among the top five in the world in subsequent years, but his desire to return to the top prompted him to move to Champaign in 2009 to train with former University of Illinois coach Gary Winckler.
Their collaboration ended after a year when Winckler retired. Jackson moved back to Raleigh to train under his ex-coach, George Williams.
“Things went great (in 2010),” said Jackson, who won 9 of 12 races and post six of the nation’s top 10 times. “I had a phenomenal season. I just couldn’t run slow last year.”
Jackson believes working with Winckler in 2009 — even though it meant being away from his wife and two children — set him for a great year.
“He’s a phenomenal coach,” Jackson said. “He’s a technician. A lot of my hurdling technique came from Gary Winckler. The year I was with him, he taught me so much. I applied it with Coach Williams.”
While Winckler’s retirement was a jolt for Jackson, it did allow him to return to his family in Raleigh and the coach he started with at age 19.
Jackson hopes this year brings him another world title and the momentum for the Olympic year of 2012.
He believes track could start regaining the popularity it’s lost in recent decades if more athletes considered themselves entertainers.
“People pay their money to watch us entertain them,” he said. “I think us as athletes, if we entertain more, we’ll get more people in the stands. (Usain) Bolt is fine example of one athlete entertaining the crowd. This year, I’m going to do a lot more of that.”