Sprinter Joe Robinson established his dominance in Alaska by winning the state championship in the 100-meter dash and finishing the season unbeaten as a sophomore.
But before transferring to Potomac (Va.) for his junior year, his coaches on Kodiak Island, about 250 miles south of Anchorage, predicted he would not be able to keep up with the athletes on the mainland United States.
"From an athletic aspect, I didn't know what to expect, because we were always told that against the lower 48 [states] . . . we were no match for you guys," Robinson said. "I was just some kid from Alaska -- no one was taking me seriously."
He said he still feels like an "oddball," mainly because he never ran summer track, but at least he can say he's the nation's top-ranked oddball.
At the Jan. 11 Montgomery Invitational, he finished the 55-meter dash in 6.26 seconds, the nation's fastest this season. He won the Virginia AAA state championship at 55 meters in 6.32 and -- despite a nagging hamstring injury -- gained All-American honors by placing fifth (6.86) in the 60-meter dash at the Nike Indoor Championships last Sunday.
"I got what I came down here to do -- to be an All-American," he said. "You never would have heard of me if we hadn't moved."
He is not the first athlete in the D.C. area to win championships in two states -- Colonial Forge high jumper Jerome Miller won this year's Virginia AAA title after winning last year for Springbrook -- but he's probably the first to win in both Alaska and Virginia.
"I'm a dime a dozen, there're people transferring in all the time," he said. "But after winning the [Alaska] state championship my sophomore year, I didn't think I would be able to do it again. I've got to prove to myself that these guys down here can be beaten."
Entering his senior outdoor season, however, he still has something to prove. After a runner-up finish in last year's indoor state championship, he missed most of the outdoor season with a deep muscle bruise in his right hamstring. Though the injury's effects linger, he said he savors the adversity. Asked about his most memorable race, he referred not to the state championship but to a meet at Gar-Field last season where he fought through the injury to win.
"Last year in the 100, my leg was hurting and . . . I won. I won hurt," he said. "The state championship, that was great, but there was nothing wrong with me. I just did it."
Still, the jump from the 55- to the 60-meter dash (his best for 100 meters is 10.63) is more challenging than most people think.
"It's four more steps, and that can be a big difference. When you're dealing with speed, anything is a big deal, and where I would have stopped you have a few more strides."
But considering how far he has come, Robinson could make those few extra steps look easy.