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HAZELWOOD — The tire tethered to Justin Robinson's waist defies gravity.

It's supposed to slow him as it drags on Hazelwood West's track, a decaying six-lane special. Instead it catches air, flying behind him as he pushes through the drill.

There is little, it seems, capable of tugging Robinson back to earth. After his second full year of track and field, he is on the cusp of becoming the best sprinter Missouri has ever produced.

A junior at Hazelwood West, Robinson set the state record for the fastest 400-meter dash this spring. His personal bests are the second-fastest 100 and 200 times on record in the state. If Sean Burris, his club track coach and an assistant at Hazelwood West, could convince him to try the 800, he believes Robinson would be among the national elite in that race, too.

Robinson is the Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys track and field athlete of the year.

Robinson, 17, already has a silver medal in his collection after saving Team USA's bacon in the 1,600-meter relay at the World Under-20 Championships last July in Tampere, Finland. Should this summer go as he hopes, that international medal collection will grow.

Robinson already accomplished the biggest goal on his check list this year. He helped Hazelwood West win the Class 5 state team championship May 25 at Battle High in Columbia. It's the first state championship for the Wildcats track program and just the third state title of any kind in school history. 

“It was exciting to see Justin push aside his personal accolades,” Hazelwood West coach Tim Levine said.

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Hazelwood West junior Justin Robinson won titles in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races in Class 5 while leading the Wildcats to their first track and field team state championship. Robinson is the Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys track and field athlete of the year. Randy Kemp | Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

When a tornado devastated Jefferson City and damaged Jefferson City High two nights before it was scheduled to host the Class 3, 4 and 5 state championship meets, it forced Robinson and his coaches to make some hard choices. The Missouri State High School Activities Association quickly devised an alternate plan for the state meet that spread them across three venues and turned the regular two-day meet into a single-day affair.

The adjusted schedule for the one-day meet included preliminary races for the 100 and 200. Normally those races are on the first day of the state meet. By adding them to the one-day schedule, it meant if Robinson stuck to the pre-tornado script and didn't scratch any races, he would have to run six times in one day.

That set off alarm bells for Burris, who'd built a meticulous training schedule that would allow Robinson to be at the peak of his powers in the summer to compete for a national championship and qualify for the international competitions on his radar. It did not factor in six high-stress races in one day.

Robinson didn't care. He figured the Wildcats endured worse at practice. 

“I always wanted to win the state meet and this year I felt we had a shot to do it,” Robinson said. “So I just said forget being selfish and I put the team above my goals.”

Robinson rolled through his preliminary races, then set the Class 5 state record in the 100 by finishing in 10.56 seconds and narrowly missing the overall state record of 10.42 set by Raytown South's Maurice Mitchell in 2008.

Already this season, Robinson laid down the third-fastest 100 ever in the state when he went 10.32 at Parkway Central's Henle Holmes Invitational in April. It's only behind Blue Springs' Carlos Anderson, whose 10.15 in 2008 stands alone. Mitchell had a hand-held time of 10.24. 

Robinson followed his first state championship of the day by anchoring Hazelwood West's 800-meter relay to victory in 1 minute, 26.44 seconds, which was within striking distance of the all-class record of 1:25.62 set by Hazelwood Central in 2007.

In his fifth race of the day, Robinson made his case for why he's the best quarter miler the state has seen. Robinson won his third 400-meter state championship in a state meet record of 46.3 seconds. The previous mark of 46.81 was set by Jefferson City's Domenik Peterson in 2003.

It's the official state record because it happened at the state meet, but it was the third-fastest 400 of Robinson's career. He popped the fastest 400 by a Missouri high school runner ever when he finished in a personal best time of 46.2 and took fourth at the United States Track and Field Junior Outdoor Championships at Indiana University last June. He raced to the nation's fastest 400 time this season when he finished in 46.22 to win at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in April.

In his sixth race on a hot day, Robinson won the 200 in 21.96 seconds. It's a full second behind Mitchell, who set the record at 20.96 in 2008 and wasn't even Robinson's fastest 200 time in a state meet. Robinson won last year in 21.62.

On fresh legs at Clayton's Marion Freeman Invitational in April, Robinson won the 200 in 20.98. It's the fastest 200 in Missouri this spring, giving Robinson a clean sweep. Only Mitchell has run the 200 faster. 

“No one else could have done what he did,” Burris said.

The victories were sweet and historical for Hazelwood West, but it did come at a price. Robinson was unable to get much rest or let himself cool down. That meant constant vigilance to keep moving one way or another.

“I had to stay focused and keep getting therapy, staying hydrated and stay out of the sun as much as possible,” Robinson said. “I was doing a lot of warming up, rolling, barely cooling down, do a lot of static stretching. It was a busy day for me.”

One busy day that will remembered fondly by the Wildcats.

Tangible success and championships have been hard to come by. For the track team to finish in the top four for the fourth time in school history and win its first title it resonated in the halls when Robinson and his teammates returned victorious.

“It was just an honor. What an experience just to do that for Hazelwood West,” Robinson said. “It was just amazing, especially coming back to school and getting the love and support from teachers and students and administrators. It was just a great feeling.”

With the state championship secured, Robinson's focus has shifted to what could be the most significant summer of his young life. Robinson competed at the Great Southwest Classic this weekend in the 400. If he wins and does so in a time close to 45.5 seconds, Burris believes Robinson will give himself a shot at being selected for Team USA, which will compete at the Pan American Games from July 26-August 11 in Lima, Peru.

The only stage bigger than this summer's Pan Am Games is next summer's Olympics.

“It's a big stepping stone,” Burris said. “This would be a natural progression.”

If you call a soon-to-be high school senior running against the western hemisphere's elite athletes natural. Robinson said the USATF Junior Championships last summer helped him not be intimidated by older, more experienced competition. He was one of a few high school athletes selected to make the trip to Finland. College athletes from the biggest track programs in the country make up the bulk of the roster. 

“I didn't know there would be collegiate kids running there until I got there and start seeing LSU, Baylor, Georgia, all them schools. I'm like 'Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm running against these guys?' ” Robinson said. “I felt like I could do it, I believed in my training and I made the team. So, the sky is the limit.”

Robinson has a world of opportunities in front of him. Whether or not he is selected for the Pan Am Games, he still plans on competing at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Championships from June 13-16 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

At some point next fall he'll pick from a laundry list of college programs salivating at the chance to land him. So far Arizona State, Baylor, Florida and LSU have made an impression, but that hasn't stopped others from chasing him hard. No matter what choice he makes, Robinson will have a scholarship to an excellent university, one that can help him take the next step on and off the track.

“I'm truly blessed to have the opportunity to have these college coaches calling me up and I get to choose,” Robinson said. “I'm not limited. I'm truly thankful and blessed for that." 

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