Doug Robinson: The unraveling of a rare talent

Published: Saturday, April 13 2013 8:45 p.m. MDT

"It wasn't a hard recruit," recalls James. "He fell in love with the mountains and the campus. We took him along the Provo River and Hobble Creek and Utah Lake. He loved what he saw. And we explained the benefits of altitude training and running in the mountains."

BYU coaches decided to redshirt Danielson that season to enable him, under the NCAA rules of the day, to be eligible to compete in the NCAA championships as a senior. During his first collegiate season, Danielson was able to compete in a couple of meets independently and ran 4:03 in an indoor mile race and 8:44.4 in an outdoor two-mile race, marks that are all the more impressive when the altitude is considered. That should have demonstrated to Danielson that his training program was on the right path, but it wasn't enough.

"He had a tremendous capacity to work hard," says James. "We'd run 12 to 14 quarters (in a training session) and he would want to do more. I remember a couple of times we'd go on a six- or seven-mile run, and he'd come back and want to do 10 quarters at 60 seconds on the track."

His high school workouts were high-volume, intense affairs that defied the traditional, more judicious training philosophy of following speed days with an easier, less intense recovery day, which enabled the body to recover. The Times reported, "In high school, he trained twice a day, sometimes even three times. (Danielson) recalled his weekly speed work during the track season: Monday, eight repeats of 440 yards; Tuesday, 20x220 yards (in 24 seconds); Wednesday, 40x110 yards; Thursday, a warm-up and strides; Friday, meet day; Saturday and Sunday, a 15-mile run."

At BYU, James urged a more prudent approach. "I tried to talk to him," says James. "I'd tell him, 'Look, you're running at altitude. You can do a few less up here and it will be the equivalent of a few more at sea level.' He struggled with that. But more than anything else, when you're that good I guess you think you're going to keep improving and improving and improving, and he would have — there's no question in my mind that he would have — but he was too impatient. An individual can be so motivated that he has the ability to destroy himself."

While Danielson was unhappy about his performances and training, he was also struggling with another challenge.

"He was lovesick," says James.

Danielson's high school sweetheart remained in California when he left for Provo. According to James, she visited Danielson in Provo for a week. When she returned home, says James, "Tim couldn't quite handle being away from her."

As James and Hirschi recalled, Danielson never struggled with life at the Mormon Church-owned school.

"There was no problem with being accepted," says James. "There wasn't a religious problem. He never complained about those (required religion) classes. And he never had a drinking problem at BYU. I never knew of one drinking episode."

Says Hirschi, "I recruited him, so I spent a lot of time with him. It was always my impression that he was an exceptional young man. There was nothing going on here as far as untoward behavior is concerned. He was just a good kid."

At the end of his freshman season, though, Danielson left for California — never to return.

"He was a real nice kid; he really was," says James. "But he just had a hard time handling that love syndrome. We tried everything we could to talk him out of leaving."

Says Hirschi, "In the long run, redshirting him was a bad idea. He was training all the time, but not racing. It's a long, cold spring. I suppose if he had competed as a freshman, he might have stayed with us."

A couple of months after leaving BYU — and still fit largely from the training he had done in Provo — he entered what would become a historic mile race in Bakersfield, Calif., competing head to head with Ryun and the latest high school mile phenom, Liquori. The 20-year-old Ryun clocked 3:51.1 — a world record that would last eight years. Liquori came home in seventh in 3:59.8 to become the third member of the prep sub-four club. Danielson was eighth in 4:00.6.

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