This time, there was no phone call at 5:30 a.m. imploring David Payne to jump on the next plane and travel halfway around the world in two day's time to compete.
BERLIN — This time, there was no phone call at 5:30 a.m. imploring David Payne to jump on the next plane and travel halfway around the world in two day's time to compete.
This time, the American earned his spot on the worlds team by winning the 110-meter hurdles title at the U.S. championships.
Two years ago, Payne arrived at the world championships in Osaka, Japan, as a late replacement after not making the squad. He showed up trying to steer his career back on course and left with a bronze medal.
Now, he's in Berlin as one of the favorites, maybe even the man to beat with Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles battling a hamstring injury and Chinese star Liu Xiang at home as he recovers from foot surgery.
Payne made it through the first round today, finishing third in his heat. American teammate Terrence Trammell also advanced. David Oliver, the bronze medalist from the Beijing Olympics, didn't make the squad after missing the U.S. championships with an injury.
"It wasn't a good race," said Payne, the silver medal winner in Beijing. "But I made it to the next round, and that's all that matters."
To think, Payne almost walked away from the hurdles.
He was fed up with frustrating times and performances. While Oliver progressed in his training, Payne plunged. He couldn't understand why.
"To see David run great times while I was sitting back home, I was like, 'I'm through,'" the 27-year-old Payne said. "I just didn't understand why I wasn't progressing the way he was."
Before making a hasty decision, though, he decided to take a break in 2006.
Payne became a bartender near the University of Cincinnati, where he went to school. He was mastering margaritas and mojitos, not his form, as he figured out a concoction to get him back on the track.
Then it came to him — change everything.
His work habits, his desire, his focus.
"I told myself to quit fooling around, dedicate my life to it instead of half of my life," he said. "If this is my last chance, I'm going to give it 180 percent."
He showed up for the U.S. championships in 2007 running better, but he missed qualifying for the world team by one place.
Then Payne received the call at his home in Hampton, Va., that Dominique Arnold pulled out of the competition with an injury.
The spot was all his if he could get to Osaka in time. Payne did, jumping on the first flight he could find.
He arrived just in time for the competition.
There, in Osaka, his career turned around. He finally had the performance to convince himself that he could compete on the biggest stage.
"It proved to me that just because you're not the best at this moment, it doesn't mean you should give up," said Payne, who has an inspirational verse from the Bible tattooed on the inside of his left forearm.
Soon after Osaka, he struggled with injuries. Payne bruised a heel and had a stress fracture in his left tibia. He also had his appendix removed.
Still, he managed to finish third at the Olympic trials last summer, then won silver in Beijing as he held off Oliver — the hurdler he measured his progress by as he contemplated a career change.
Those bartending days now seem a long time ago.
"The hurdles are exactly the same thing as someone's life — you have all these barriers," Payne said. "You can hit one and you can fall. Or you recover and get better."