TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Unfazed by the stage or the competition, Florida State's Dentarius Locke turned a personal-best performance Friday at Stade Louis in Monaco, France into a spot on the United States team for next month's IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
Competing in the Diamond League's Herculis Monaco meet less than a week after his arrival, Locke claimed a runner-up finish in the 100-meter dash. Racing out of lane eight against a field of Olympians, the rising Seminole senior came within a whisker of the victory, finishing in a career-best 9.96 to Justin Gatlin's winning time of 9.94.
"It was amazing," Locke said, after his international racing debut. "I was so nervous because of the guys I was running against. This is so crazy! I was running with my hero [Gatlin]. To run with him is a blessing. This raises my confidence, but I still have a lot to prove and I still have that chip on my shoulder."
Owner of the fourth-fastest time in the United States this year, Locke earned an invitation to Monaco to train for one of the coveted spots on the 4x100 relay after placing sixth in the 100 at the USA Championships last month.
"He was un-intimidated out of lane 8 and didn't give anybody anything," said Florida State associate head coach Ken Harnden, after watching a video replay of Locke's performance. "He really did a nice job. He just went in there and competed well.
"I'm happy he can go over there and get in with the big dogs and mix it up. That's huge for a young man that's really blossomed this year. He has become a legitimate factor in any meet he shows up for in the World."
The Tampa native got his first taste of competition Friday on the Team USA Blue 4x100 relay squad, running the third leg for the quartet which finished in 38.26, right behind Team USA Red's world-leading 37.58 mark.
Locke's day, however, was just beginning. Beyond Gatlin, who has assumed the role of Team USA's top sprinter after Tyson Gay's suspension, the 100-meter field was included France's national champion Jimmy Vicaut, 2012 US Olympian Michael Rodgers, 2012 Olympian and 2013 Jamaican National silver medalist Kemar Bailey-Cole, four-time Olympian Kim Collins of St. Kitts & Nevis and 2013 NCAA champion Charles Silmon of TCU.
Undeterred by the competition and the less-than-ideal lane assignment, Locke held a slight lead as the field closed on the finish, before he was nipped by Gatlin at the line. Vicaut was third in 9.99, followed by Rodgers (10.07), Collins (10.08), Bailey-Cole (10.10), Jamaica's Nickel Ashmeade (10.13) and Silmon (10.20).
The impressive performance came into a slight (-0.4) headwind in front of a crowd estimated at 40,000 at the 10th of 14 Diamond League meets; the premier racing circuit in the World.
Shortly after his runner-up performance, Locke was told by Team USA officials that he had secured a spot for the World Championship meet, August 10-18 in Moscow.
"It feels great to be a part of the USA Team, officially," Locke said.
"We are all really proud that he will have the chance to put on the uniform and represent his country at the World Championships," Harnden said.