Justin Kimble stood in Lane 3 on Paul Derr Track and stared ahead at the first 100 meters of his junior year — a 100 meters that, he knew, could very well produce the outline for his season and, maybe, the rest of his sprinting career at Mount St. Mary’s.
The starter’s gun hadn’t even fired on that splendid March 29 afternoon, he hadn’t even settled into his blocks, yet Kimble’s mind was already racing.
He wondered if the hamstring strain that ended his indoor season just before the championship meets was ready for this max-velocity test in Raleigh, North Carolina. He wondered if it was too early in the spring to post a good time in his favorite event — especially after his first race of the season, a quarter mile two weeks earlier, forced the asthmatic to grab his inhaler. He wondered if he’d ever really run fast again.
Not just fast. Fast fast.
The kind of fast that threatens records. The kind of fast that makes the Cleveland native one of the most promising track athletes in Mountaineers history.
Then that gun went off.
And by the time the 5-foot-9, 140-pound Kimble had traveled those 100 meters, all of his worries were gone with the barely-legal tailwind.
He’d placed second in a scintillating race. In the process, he’d set the coordinates for the next phase of his career and blown the dust off a record that was put on the books 47 years ago by a Frederick County luminary. Kimble’s time of 10.40 seconds broke the Mount’s oldest mark — a 10.44 posted by Anthony Ambush in 1972.
“That was probably one of the fastest 100-meter races I’ve been in in my life,” Kimble said Wednesday at Knott Arena, recalling a competition that saw six runners go under 10.6 and was won by Eastern Michigan’s Terrell Posada in 10.28.
“Coming into the race, it was a mixture of excitement, anxiety. ... I was nervous I would get hurt again. I was nervous I would run slow because I hadn’t sprinted in awhile. So it was just a lot of uncertainty going into the race.”
In the amount of time it takes to read this paragraph, the “un” was eliminated from his uncertainty. Now, Kimble knows he’s still fast fast. He knows his body and mind are tuned and synthesized.
And Mount coach Jay Phillips knows he can firmly put Kimble on track to qualify for the NCAA prelims.
Phillips, a former Mount sprinter himself, is as much a philosopher as he is a track coach. He’ll casually discuss the mental makeup of a good runner and the composition of a race that, to a layman, simply looks like a dead sprint. He watched Kimble’s record race and saw reason to celebrate not just because it topped the school’s all-time list but because — despite a solid start, drive phase, acceleration phase and transition phase — Kimble’s form came undone in the longest and final facet of that 100 meters.
“As soon as he got to his max-velocity phase, which is a significant portion of the race, he just broke down really quickly,” Phillips said. “You could tell his body hadn’t handled that speed ever, and hadn’t handled close to that speed in a year. So the last 25 meters of the race, he’s doing everything he can to not let people catch him instead of actually finishing the race.”
In other words: Kimble broke the record, essentially, with flawed form.
Said Phillips, “It was a ‘B’ race in ‘A-plus’ conditions.”
Kimble has been focusing on maintaining physical composure when he’s burning through his races (he’s also the Mount’s top 200-meter runner). Since his sophomore year, as long as he stayed healthy and relaxed, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Kimble would challenge the school’s records.
He shattered the school’s 60-meter indoor mark (6.8) in February 2018, then lowered it to 6.77 two months ago before the injury. Last April, he nudged closer to Ambush’s 100 record with a 10.48. When asked if those records were in his sights as soon as he committed to the Mount out of Twinsburg High, Kimble nods so emphatically that his dreads bounce.
He noticed the 100 time but confessed to knowing little about Ambush and not even taking note of how old the record was.
‘It’s been a long time’
Ambush remembers what his time was. That’s not to say he recalls much about the 1972 NCAA meet where he officially ran it in Ohio. Nor does it mean he willingly accepts that his record has been eclipsed.
In his mind, his record time was 10.2 seconds.
But that was a handheld (stopwatch) time — the only method of timing at most meets during his Mount career. The NCAA didn’t switch to Fully Automatic Timing until later in the 1970s. Once that happened, for record-keeping purposes, .24 was added to hand times for the 100 and 200 dashes to account for the reaction of a timer to the smoke from the starter’s gun.
“I don’t dwell on it,” said Ambush, 67. “It’s been a long time.”
Yes, it has been a long time. But time hasn’t detracted from Ambush’s status among runners in Frederick County. A schoolboy sprinting superstar at Frederick High School in the late 1960s, he set a National Junior Olympic record (9.5 seconds) in the 100-yard dash in 1969 and — despite running on gravel tracks without the benefit of much weight training — might well be the fastest man in Frederick County history.
“You know, he probably is,” said former Mount track coach Jim Deegan, 85, who lured Ambush up Route 15 with a full scholarship in 1969.
Chuck Foreman, the former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl running back who played football and ran track with Ambush at Frederick High, said Ambush wasn’t just the fastest man in Frederick County, he was “one of the fastest animals in the country.”
For someone with Deegan’s eye for talent, Ambush’s potential was limitless. Deegan relayed an exchange they shared once Ambush was on the Mount campus.
“I said, ‘You know what A.A. stands for?’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘All-American.’”
And that’s what Ambush became.
Blessed with powerful fast-twitch muscles and a serious demeanor, Ambush perfected his sprinter’s stride under Deegan, much like Kimble is learning under Phillips how to master the finite mechanics and mental challenges of running fast fast.
Shortly after the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Ambush recorded what eventually was converted to his 10.44 to earn All-America honors in 1972, he traveled to Oregon for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“I made it to the quarterfinals, I think, and that was about it,” said Ambush, who has owned a commercial business insurance company in Washington, D.C. for 40 years. “Those California boys are too fast.”
He graduated from the Mount in 1973, having recorded times of 10.2 more than once. While he keeps tabs on the Mountaineers and cuts a yearly check to the track program, he wasn’t aware of Kimble’s feat until a few days later. When reached by phone last week, he immediately asked what Kimble’s time was, and he initially wondered if his old mark had truly been knocked down a peg — no offense to Kimble.
“People are still competitors. That doesn’t change,” said Phillips, who appreciates Ambush’s yearly contributions to his program and hopes to get the two record sprinters together soon.
After discussing the reason his time had been converted to a 10.44, Ambush relented. Somewhat.
“Actually, I don’t have a problem with that,” Ambush said. “In my mind, I really think I do have the record, and it’s still there. But I’m not going to take anything away from any young athlete that has the Mount record. I’m happy for him, and I look forward to meeting him.”
Kimble just smiles and seems glad that he’s not involved in the process for determining times and records from bygone eras.
“I think they add point-two to hand times,” he said, “but I’m not the judge and jury on this one.”
‘Is that gonna count?’
However, on March 29, that judge and jury was very much on Kimble’s mind after he crossed the finish line. He actually had some doubt about the validity of his smashing time, too — because the official tailwind for the race was registered at a brisk 3.9 meters per second.
Kimble noticed and asked Phillips, “Coach, is that gonna count for the record?”
Narrowly. According to Phillips, the NCAA’s allowable wind-aid for qualifying times is 4.0 meters per second. Hence, the “A-plus” conditions he mentioned.
Heading into those Raleigh Relays, Phillips thought Kimble’s performance in the 100 would set the stage for the remainder of his spring. Given Kimble’s injury rehab and slow-played intro to the outdoor season, Kimble and Phillips were not looking for a record-breaker.
“I felt like it was possible, but I was nowhere near expecting it,” Kimble said. “I was expecting to run pretty close to my average times, to be honest with you.”
Now, he appears on pace for his next big goal. He’ll need to finish within the top 48 fastest times in the East to qualify for NCAA prelims. Last year, the slowest such time was 10.37. Since moving to Division I, no Mount sprinter has qualified for NCAAs.
Next on their agenda is figuring out when to have Kimble fully cut loose again in an attempt to go faster. For someone who is fast fast, it’s not as simple as it might seem.
“Once you start running 10.5s, you can only hit that a couple times a season,” Phillips said. “You cannot hit that, week in, week out, for 10 weeks. It just breaks your body down.”
Kimble says he’s about 98% healthy, which bodes well for his chances to make NCAAs. And he seems to fully trust Phillips, who stuck by him when scholarship offers were being pulled, right and left, after Kimble tore his hamstring as a high school junior. Even though there’s no promise he’ll get another race this season in such ideal conditions, Kimble is confident — as any sprinter would be — that he’s not done gaining speed.
“I’m not even close to peaking yet,” the computer science major said, “so I definitely think I can get that time down.”
Considering Kimble’s accomplishments and the fact that he still has another year of track ahead of him at the Mount, Ambush can envision Kimble creating a greater gap between their two top times in the record book — regardless of mechanisms or wind or anything else.
Said the humble old champion, ”Maybe he’s got the potential to really break it, and this conversation will really be moot.”