HAZELWOOD — Justin Robinson didn't believe the clock.
There was no way he was that fast. Didn't happen. Had to be a malfunction.
“I felt slow through the whole thing,” he said. “I felt like I was going too slow.”
It didn't feel like he'd just set a new Under-18 400-meter world record.
But that's exactly what he did.
A soon-to-be senior at Hazelwood West and the newly crowned Post-Dispatch All-Metro boys track and field athlete of the year, Robinson won the 400 in 44.84 seconds Saturday at the Great Southwest Classic at the University of New Mexico.
Robinson's time eclipsed the Under-18 world record of 45.14 set by Obea Moore of the U.S. at the Pan American Junior Games in Santiago, Chile in 1995. It's the second-fastest time by an American high school athlete ever, trailing only Darrell Robinson who went 44.69 in 1982.
When asked what it's like to hold a world record, Justin Robinson took a moment before he said, “Speechless.”
Sean Burris was not speechless. An assistant coach at Hazelwood West and Robinson's club coach with Gateway City United, Burris told Ladue coach and fellow Gateway City United coach Nick Buckvar in March that Robinson wasn't just capable of a 44.8 race.
“I guaranteed it,” Burris said with a chuckle.
A longtime track coach in the area, Burris put a caveat on his guarantee. He wanted to see Robinson hit certain benchmarks throughout the spring that showed he was on the path.
Robinson hit all of them.
“I thought this (meet) would be the perfect storm,” Burris said. “This was the meet we were really targeting.”
It's a meet that could change Robinson's life. Setting a youth world record puts you on the radar. But Robinson's time lofted him into the top-10 400 runners in America this year — college and professionals included. His 44.84 puts him at No. 9 and there's talk about a professional career in his not-to-distant future. It's all been a little much for the 17-year-old who finished his junior year of high school two weeks ago.
“It's a little scary honestly,” Robinson said. “I have to mature a little more and grow up a lot. I feel like I'm ready for it.”
Robinson is ready to show what he can do on a bigger stage and the next two weeks will go a long way to figuring out what that stage may be. This weekend he'll compete in the New Balance Nationals at Greensboro, North Carolina. The following week is the United States Track and Field Under-20 Outdoor Championships in Miramar, Florida. That's when Robinson expects he'll run his next 400.
Should he have another incredible performance, he'll be in the mix to compete for Team USA at the Pan American U20 Games in San Jose, Costa Rica; the senior Pan American Games in Lima, Peru; or the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
All of them would allow him an opportunity to be in the mix for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Robinson won't run the 400 at New Balance Nationals this weekend. Burris said with the USATF U20 meet the following week, the workload would be too much. Instead he hopes he can get Robinson a chance to run the 200 at New Balance Nationals.
The same predictive numbers that led Burris to guarantee Robinson's world record say he'd be equally impressive in the 200. Robinson just needs an opportunity to showcase it.
“No one has really gotten a chance to see what he can do in the 200 just like no one had really gotten a chance to see what he could do in the 400,” Burris said. “I just rely on this thing right here (his stop watch) and it says he should be running a 20.3.”
If Robinson did that it would put him in the top-15 times by an American in the 200 this year.
Should he be allowed to try his hand at the 200, that would be his open event at New Balance Nationals. Otherwise he'll run with his club team on the 800-meter relay.
“That's why I wanted him to run the 200 at New Balance this weekend,” Burris said. “That would be an equally great place to showcase what he can do in that event.”