Time is running out for sprinter Darwin Cook of USC, and time is always on his mind.
Cook, a senior, recorded his best time of 10.20 seconds in the 100 meters as a freshman and has never been able to better it without an excessive wind reading.
Although Cook ranks fourth on USC's all-time 100-meter list, a notable achievement considering the quality of Trojan sprinters over the years, he is frustrated.
"My big goal and something that is always pressing on my mind is that I haven't P.R.'d. (set a personal record) legally since my freshman year," he said. "I'm going to try my hardest to do it this weekend."
He was referring to Saturday's dual meet with UCLA at Drake Stadium, a fast sprint facility.
Cook was geared to go under 10.20 Sunday at the Puma-Mt. San Antonio Relays. In a prominent sprint field that included Carl Lewis, James Butler and Harvey Glance, Cook got off to a fine start, but still wound up fourth with a wind-aided time of 10.22.
"I felt that I got last place even though I ran a good time," Cook said.
Cook is the Pacific 10's defending 100-meter champion and one of the best collegiate sprinters in the country. But he has a flaw and it surfaces at the end of a race.
"It happens in the last 20 meters every time," he said. "I think about driving to the tape, but I go about it the wrong way. I drop my arms and, in turn, cut my stride a lot.
"That brings people to me, rather than me taking it from them. I give away the race."
Lewis and other top ranked sprinters have said that the outcome of a race often is determined by runners slowing down at the end, more than those running faster.
So Cook is working on maintaining his form in the late stage of a race. It could be the difference between winning and losing and, of course, those elusive hundredths of a second that he is trying to shave off.
"There are certain little drills that I do that make me think about my arms pumping harder at the end of a race--to keep them at a correct angle," Cook said. "It's got to be a habit, something that you do naturally. I do it sometimes but, under the pressure of a race, I forget everything and run any old kind of a race, the way I like. But it's incorrect."
Cook is a consistent, reliable sprinter, but he is about one-tenth of a second away from being in the same class as Lewis, Sam Graddy and Calvin Smith, the world record-holder at 9.93 seconds.
Even so, he came ever so close to beating Smith April 20 in the 100 at the El Paso Invitational. Smith was declared the winner in a hand-timed 10.1. Cook was given the same time.
"The same thing happened," he said. "Only this time it was in the last 10 meters. The difference was about six inches. It just makes me feel that I can't give up and I know if I correct some minor things, I'd be right there, like in second place (behind Lewis) at Mt. SAC."
Lewis won in a 9.90 seconds, followed by Butler in 10.17, Glance in 10.19, and Cook.
Cook will be favored to win the 100 again in the Pac-10 meet May 17-18 at Tucson and he could be a factor in the NCAA championships May 27-June 1 at Austin, Tex.
He pulled his right hamstring midway through a qualifying heat in last year's NCAA meet at Eugene, Ore.
"It really made me mad, but I kept on running," he said.
Even though he was slowing down, he finished fourth in 10.32 and qualified for the final. The injury prevented him from running in the final, though, and it also prevented the USC 400-meter relay team from appearing in the final. The Trojans had the third-best qualifying time of 39.69 seconds. So his injury was doubly disappointing.
Cook grew up in Bowie, Md., and attended Woodson High School in Washington D.C. He was an accomplished sprinter and also a tailback on the football team.
"I gained about 800 or so yards my senior year and a lot of schools were recruiting me for football," he said. "I was commuting from Bowie to high school, about 20 miles, and there were late practices and late meetings. It got so that I just didn't like football."
He hadn't intended to enroll at USC and, although he was aware of the school's prestigious track history, he felt slighted because USC was late in recruiting him.
"When they finally did, I thought I'd waste a recruiting trip because I had never been to California," he said. "I had already made up mind, I thought, to attend Arizona State. But I came here and had a really good time."
Cook was recruited by Ken Matsuda, an assistant coach at USC for 18 years until a new coaching regime headed by Ernie Bullard took over this season.
Bullard replaced Vern Wolfe, who retired as head coach, and Leo Davis replaced Matsuda as sprint coach.
"Kenny was like a father to me and I miss him," Cook said. "But I have to give credit to Leo. He knows more technically about sprinting than anyone I've ever met."
Cook said that Davis is trying to change some aspects of his sprinting style.