Walker finished sixth in his semifinal heat with the top four in each semi moving on to the championship race later Sunday afternoon. His 20.64 time was second-best among the three collegiate semifinalists. Florida’s Dedric Dukes, the NCAA champ, won the first heat in 20.21, while LSU’s Aaron Ernest finished just behind Walker in 20.67, the 12th best time in the 16-man semifinal field.
Walker ran 20.13 at the NCAA Outdoors earlier this month to finish third, but could not approach that time Sunday.
His semifinal race came about 36 hours after Friday night’s 100 meter final, where he took fifth, finishing as the top collegiate and amateur athlete in the eight-man championship field.
“The heavy schedule caught up with him today. Justin had a really good start and reaction to the gun. He came off the curve and ran down a couple of people, but didn’t have enough left in the tank to outrun enough guys,” said Demons’ coach Mike Heimerman. “This was a heavy load at the highest competitive level he’s ever faced, and what he accomplished here this weekend makes his more marketable.
“Fifth in the 100 and 11th in the 200 at the USAs, that’s a strong performance for anyone and especially a young man in his first USA Championships,” said Heimerman. “He’ll go down as the most prolific sprinter in our school history and among the elite in 50 years of Southland Conference history. He’s had a remarkable career.”
Walker holds Demon records in the 100 (10.12) and 200 (20.47) with faster times in each race (9.95 in the 100, 20.13 in the 200) disallowed for record purposes due to tailwinds over the 2.0 mph legal limit. He won six Southland sprint titles in a career interrupted in 2011 by reconstructive knee surgery. He redshirted in 2012 and returned to competition in 2013, before his breakout year this spring.
After sweeping the Southland 60 and 200 titles indoors, and the 100 and 200 crowns outdoors, Walker was fourth in the NCAA Outdoors 100, third in the 200 and scored 11 points, placing NSU 20th in the team standings.
“Justin’s been running competitively since January with no time off. Right now he’s beat up and needs some down time,” said Heimerman. “He’s certainly attracted a lot of attention from agents and is going to have some opportunities to consider, and make the best choice for his future.
“He’s got potential to be a world-class sprinter,” said Heimerman. “The 200 is probably his best event, but he’s very good at the 100. He’s learned a lot this year about the mechanics and being a track athlete at the highest level, and he’s made great progress in one season. He has a lot of room for improvement, which is hard to believe and fascinating to consider. These agents aren’t buzzing around him by accident.”
Walker, who is three hours away from earning his undergraduate degree, plans to complete that process next month while he and family members consider his competitive future.