Jon Drummond was a strange little boy, burning with intensity and possessed of mysterious powers. He preached a sermon when he was two, standing on a chair placed on a table in the City of David Church of God and Christ in Philadelphia, where his father was minister. "He tore the church up," says the Reverend David Drummond. "People lined up to touch him. One girl had a bump on her face. He touched her, and it went away."
Jon's career as a preacher is on hold now while he develops his more earthly talent of sprinting. Last Saturday, Drummond tore up the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. In the space of 90 minutes he ran blistering legs on winning teams in the 4 x 100-and 4 x 200-meter relays. In between he won the 100-yard dash—an anachronism in this metric era, held in honor of the 100th Penn Relays. Drummond's time of 9.33 seconds was. 12 of a second off the world best set a generation ago. One of the men he beat was Andre Cason, the silver medalist in the 100 meters at last summer's World Championships. "This was my gift to Philadelphia," said the always exuberant Drummond, who celebrated his dash victory by raising both his arms in salute to the crowd of 43,830, the largest in the history of the meet.
Drummond has arrived at the right time. The two fastest men in history, Carl Lewis, the 100-meter world-record holder, and 1992 Olympic 100-meter champion Linford Christie, have to be nearing the end of their careers. Lewis is 32, Christie 34. "I have what they don't have—youth," says Drummond, who is 25. "Andre has risen quickly. I'm climbing slowly. I'm the man to fear."
A year ago March, Drummond began training with UCLA assistant track coach John Smith. The partnership bore immediate fruit. At last July's much ballyhooed showdown in England, between Lewis and Christie, Drummond beat Lewis for second while losing narrowly to Christie. At the World Championships two weeks later, he ran leadoff on the U.S. 4 x 100 team that tied the world record in the semis. Because Drummond never does anything quite the same way as others, he ran the final, which the U.S. won, with a comb in his hair; just forgot to take it out. By the end of the year he was fifth in the 100-meter world rankings, one place ahead of Lewis.
Drummond is a refreshing anomaly in the stone-faced world of sprinting. During his prerace ritual, he whoops, stares menacingly ahead and exhales ferociously, as if trying to blow out a candle at the far end of the track. "Last summer some people told me to tone him down," says Smith, who ignored them. "I was concerned he was hyperactive as a child," adds his mother. "Also he was kind of thin, while the rest of our family is kind of fat. I took him to the doctor, who said, 'Have you ever seen a fat racehorse?' "
When he isn't racing, Drummond can be found singing tenor with Kirk Franklin & the Family, a 21-member gospel group from Fort Worth that appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show in February. The group's first album reached No. 1 on Billboard's gospel chart. Indeed, the Gospel is never far from Drummond's mind. When asked why so many of the world's top sprinters—Lewis, Leroy Burrell and Dennis Mitchell—come from the Philadelphia area, Drummond says, "All good things come from the East. The wise men came from the East." So does a new sprint star, rising fast.
The gospel singer didn't treat his Penn Relay foes reverentially.