LONDON — I would pay to hear Khadevis Robinson speak, to discover how life beckons at certain moments, to learn how he exorcised those demons from 2000 and ‘08, to better understand his view that the past is gone and the future doesn’t exist and the only choice we have is to live in the moment.
The Olympics are about sacrifice, isolation, perseverance, overcoming great odds through years and years of solitary dedication and work.
They are also about defying failure.
You don’t qualify for the 800 meters at age 35. Speed tends to fade as more and more birthday candles are blown out.
It’s not the place for the old men of track, but it’s where Robinson will compete here at the 2012 Games.
He wasn’t running out of time, after all.
He is a track and field assistant coach at UNLV who was among the world’s best middle distance runners in 2000, when he failed to qualify for the Sydney Games. Four years later, he made the U.S. team for Athens. Four years later, he missed out on Beijing by 0.6 seconds at trials when Christian Smith dove across the finish line ahead of Robinson.
It was wild. A crazy finish.
“Obviously, life doesn’t always go the way you have things planned,” Robinson said. “We all have different journeys. We all bring different baggage.
“I appreciate this more now. I’m not all that talented when it comes to the top guys, but what has allowed me to still perform well are the mental aspects of life. My faith. My family. My belief in self and God. Once you figure out why you’re running, what’s really important to you, you can use it as a vehicle to achieve your goals.”
His goal for London: Run really, really fast.
This isn’t your father’s 800 meters. David Rudisha of Kenya has made sure of that. He is the world record holder at 1:41.01 and has posted five of the 10 fastest times in history.
The race has for some time been known as the ultimate of sprints, a chance for elite athletes to perform their best in both speed and endurance. It used to be about tactical skill as much as tempo. You could stay close to the leader for much of the way and then use the best technique to pull ahead. But then Rudisha started blowing away fields.
Now, guys just sprint the entire way.
Exploding heart type of sprinting.
Robinson has a personal best of 1:43.68 and yet it would surprise most here if he advanced past one round of qualifying. It’s brutally tough just to make the semifinals. The world is just so fast now. Not to mention young.
But he can draw from the experience of six appearances in the World Championships, four times a U.S. champion indoors and out, multiple NCAA titles while attending Texas Christian, his one Olympics of eight years ago.
He didn’t crumble at trials last month when 22-year old NCAA champion Charles Jock made like a cheetah and went 49 seconds over the first lap of the final. Instead, Robinson stuck to his plan and passed others as they faded.
He will keep the moment in perspective and covet every second of it here, a man who after that disappointing finish at the 2008 trials considered retirement. He was married and a father by then. Injuries hit. The easy option would have been to walk away from competing and work as a motivational speaker.
I get the feeling this is a guy who doesn’t prefer the easy option.
“You know, at trials this year I took the time to look around at the crowd and thought, ‘Man, this is what it’s about,” said Robinson, who has two young sons with wife Stephanie. “I just need to embrace it. I remember at the 2004 Games, a young lady told me when walking into the stadium to enjoy all of it because you never know if you’ll get back.
“She was so right. Now, I tell all my runners at UNLV the same thing. Enjoy this time. Enjoy the process. It’s the most amazing time of your life. It’s as good as it gets. They look at me like I’m crazy.”
They will watch him from afar on Aug. 6, when the first round of the 800 meters will be held inside Olympic Stadium. I don’t know if Robinson has it in his 35-year old legs to advance far, but I sure would like to hear him talk about it either way.
Ed Graney is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also is writing an Olympics blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/graney. Follow him on Twitter @edgraney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.