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Newman Gives Up the Fast Life for Coaching Job

Preps: Former world-class sprinter is teaching Santa Ana distance runners how to excel.

September 30, 1997|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — There's nothing about Darel Newman that hints he was once one of the world's fastest men.

You wouldn't be surprised to hear he is a former football player. Newman has the look of a linebacker, stocky and solid. But speed doesn't seem to be part of the mix. Newman, 54, moves with the steady purpose of the longtime physical education teacher that he is at Santa Ana High.

But flash back to the mid-1960s and Newman is the "bald bullet" of Fresno State. This is a man who briefly shared the world record for 100 yards with Bob Hayes. Newman ran the 100 in 9.2 seconds (hand timed) and ran a world-record 5.9 seconds for 60 yards indoors.

Blessed with an extremely fast start--and already bald as a collegian, hence the nickname--he was ranked third in the world at 100 meters in 1965.

That was a golden age for track and field, when dual meets between nations drew huge crowds and worldwide attention.

Newman's apex of fame came in a United States versus Soviet Union meet in Kiev. Newman won the 100 meters in 10.03; he says it was the first competitive 100 to be electronically timed and the first event televised live from one continent to another.

Newman was named the male athlete of the meet and was swarmed by autograph seekers. "All of a sudden I was super famous in Russia," Newman said. "I was even assigned two KGB agents as bodyguards."

But upon returning home and graduating from Fresno State, Newman had to give up running and get a job. Although he had never played football, he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1966. After a couple days in camp he decided to return to California to teach and coach.

His first job at Smedley (now Carr) Intermediate in Santa Ana was the start of 27 years as a track coach, including 11 at Santa Ana High. Fifteen years ago he became the Saints' girls' cross-country coach and in 1992 he took over the entire program, although he now mostly deals with administrative duties while Roger and Imelda Nava handle the day-to-day coaching.

Although it might seem incongruous, a sprinter coaching distance runners, Newman says he enjoys the simplicity of the sport. Still, his background makes him a prime target for ribbing from Athletic Director Frank Alvarado, a former cross-country runner.

"I often tease Darel that he never ran anything over 200 meters in his life," Alvarado said. "He just laughs and says that's because he was smart."

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