"I fear McKay more than anyone," said DeBus. DeBus made his name as a women's coach at Cal State-Northridge and with the Naturite Track Club. Now he works with the Los Angeles and Mazda track clubs and coaches several men, including Willie Banks, the world record holder in the triple jump. He began coaching Robinson last year. "I'd heard Darrell wanted a women's coach. He and I got together because it hadn't worked for him with other coaches."
Other coaches often aren't sure what to make of Darrell's winsome manner. Robinson went to high school in Tacoma, Wash, and in 1982 set the world junior record of 44.69 in Indianapolis, reducing the previous record of 45.04. Winsome that. He made a brief stop at the University of Houston in the fall of '82, but left after one semester because the sprint coach who had recruited him resigned and went to the University of Washington. The next fall Robinson enrolled at Washington, where he stayed until January '85. Now he's a senior music major at UCLA, where he seems happier, athletically and socially. Robinson comes at you like vintage Little Richard. He wears six earrings, one that dangles, his eyebrows are plucked and he has a coif Michael Jackson would die for.
"Darrell is a very independent person," says DeBus. "Very few people have been willing to spend the time necessary to develop him. I try to understand. He's an artist, almost an ethereal person. He marches to a different drummer. To me, gifted people have the right to be eccentric. As his coach, you learn tolerance."
DeBus certainly tolerates what Robinson does to time and distance. Good Golly, Miss Molly, he's fast. "I kill the 200—20.41," Robinson said lightly. "But I want to run the 400. It's more...interesting."
"We want the big 43.8, but we may have to go to altitude to get a chance this century," said DeBus, who plans to enter Robinson in the BYU Last Chance qualifying meet in Provo, Utah this weekend. So Robinson will run his next 400 at 4,500 feet.
"You have to intend to run the 400," says John Smith, a former 440-yard master who now works with Henry Thomas and Danny Everett of UCLA. "The 400 is run with patience. You have to trust your inner clock. Run it right, and you die a little. It's a test of faith."
Faith might have been the difference between a sea-level record and second place for Robinson. Tiacoh had more faith—and more strength. "It's a speed race first," DeBus insisted. True. But it's a gut buster last. "I was nervous today, real nervous," said Robinson. "Everyone in this race was basically fearless. I lost it mentally. But that 43.8. It's going to go. It needs to be 10� cooler. And on a little harder surface. Somebody will get it."
Robinson tossed his head. "Only in America," he said. He turned to Tiacoh and smiled. "C'mon, let's have some fun," he said. "Let's take a lap." As gracefully as he could, Tiacoh declined. He'd had his lap for the day.