Sunday, July 22, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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The oldest man on the track charged around the final corner, emerging from the cluster at the back of the pack to make his kick in the final 100 meters.
Khadevis Robinson ran a near-perfect race June 25 in Eugene, Ore., at the U.S. Olympic Trials. He paced himself early on, his final in the 800 meters netting a second-place finish and, more importantly, a spot on his second U.S. Olympic team.
Watching at home in Las Vegas, Robinson’s 4-year-old son was inconsolable.
“He was distraught because I got second,” Robinson said. “He didn’t understand what second and third meant.”
It’s easy to see where his son got that mentality. Robinson smiles a lot and is generally one of the nicest people you could hope to meet, but when it comes to a competitive event — the 800 meters for a spot in the Olympics or checkers on the back porch — he’s there to win.
“To be quite honest,” Robinson said, “I was pissed I got second.”
When he toes the starting line in London, Robinson will be out to defeat fellow American Nick Symmonds, who finished first at the trials, and everyone else in the field. Before and after the race, though, it’s clear Robinson is not like his fellow competitors.
This is not his job; that would be assistant women’s cross country and track and field coach at UNLV.
This is not his highest priority; that would be his wife and two sons.
This is Robinson’s second Olympics — he also competed in 2004 — but he’s made four trips to the finals at the U.S. trials. In 2000 and 2008, he finished in fourth place, the first person left off the team.
In 2000, it was a learning experience; in 2008, it was heartbreaking, so much so that he never expected to still be around for 2012. Yet, here he is. Some may call that determination.
“Crazy might be the best word,” said Robinson, who turned 36 on July 19.
UNLV coach Yvonne Scott-Wade competed in two Olympics as a 100-meter hurdles runner for Japan. She hired Robinson in January 2011, but the two were well acquainted from the pro circuit that often consumed both of their lives.
“Him being a great athlete doesn’t necessarily make him a great coach, but thankfully he is,” Scott-Wade said.
Robinson’s run at the Olympics didn’t take any time away from his coaching. He didn’t run in an open event (anything other than a relay) until early June, less than a month before the trials.
A comparison may be a semiretired concert violinist who only plays a couple of big events a year but kills it on that grand stage. The difference is that it’s probably easier to maintain the skills required for the violin into old age than it is in the 800, among track’s toughest events.
“I watch him every day go out there in the middle of the day in the Las Vegas sun, and I’m just baffled at how somebody can manage it,” Scott-Wade said. “He does have a lot on his plate.”
The simplest way to think about the 800 is that it’s an all-out sprint for two laps. Of course that’s not exactly right — not even the 100 is entirely a sprint — but it paints an accurate picture of the anguish endured. In the finals at the U.S. trials, the first-lap leader set the pace at 49.86 seconds, or faster than most people could ever dream of running, then he kept going (he finished eighth).
It takes a special kind of mental strength to put your body through that, and Robinson said the mental side would be the deciding factor in London. Of the 57 entrants in the 800, almost every one has the physical tools to make the finals (eight runners), and anything can happen at that point.
The challenge for Robinson in the first heat of the 800 on Aug. 6 in London will be to find a way to duplicate the performance in the U.S. trials. He hit a peak in June, and at his age, it’s difficult to maintain that peak for more than a month. It’s much easier to fall off a bit than hope you can work your way back to that place.
He’ll attempt to do it the same way he has competed among the world’s best for the past decade: routines. Robinson will try to run the same race he ran in Oregon and dozens, if not hundreds, of previous races. He said he wouldn’t give away his secrets, but based on his trials race, Robinson’s plan is to hang around sixth place for the first 600 meters and then make his move around the final corner.
Whether it works, Robinson is prepared to soak in this experience, from the opening to closing ceremonies. At one point in his life, a loss at this stage would have crushed him, but that’s long gone.
“Here’s what I know,” Robinson said, “I’ve not made it before, and the world didn’t end.”
In other words, he’s going to have fun.
Robinson’s family will be in the stands, and if he finishes with anything less than a gold medal, there will probably be tears again from his eldest son. And, yeah, Robinson will be bummed, but when a child is absorbing the loss with all of the pain people expect of him, it’s easy to put things in perspective.