Tribulations Before the Trials : Track: Part-time athlete Hardy works to overcome an old injury and run with world-class sprinters.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Balancing a business career and serious sprinting, Malcom Hardy has found, can be as tricky as passing a greased baton. A supervisor in an insurance company, Hardy has no assurance his post-collegiate track career ever will reach fruition.

Yet he continues to run.

Each day after work, Hardy, 26, drives to the track at Occidental College, his alma mater, and works out. He religiously adheres to his daily regimen, which includes lifting weights and running repetitions. His entire workout schedule for the next year has been planned to the last detail.

But Hardy, a sprinter who now runs without sponsorship in invitational meets, has a long way to go if he is to meet his goal of competing in the Olympic Trials. To qualify, a sprinter must run a 10.3-second 100.

Hardy runs the distance in 11.0 now, significantly slower than he ran in college. He says he will trim that time.

"I can feel the snap back in my strides again," he said.

That snap does exist. During his junior year, Hardy won the 1985 NCAA Division III national championship by running the 100 in 10.53 seconds, an Occidental record. His 4 x 100 team--which included future Los Angeles Raider tailback Vance Mueller--won in 41.01, the third-fastest time in Division III history.

That momentum carried over into Hardy's senior season; he again qualified for the national championships in both events. The results were vastly different, however. Although his team placed second and improved its time in the 4 x 100, Hardy suffered a grisly injury in the 100, tearing a quadriceps.

"I came out of the blocks pretty well," said Hardy, who, with a victory, would have been just the third person to repeat as national champion in a Division III event. "I was leading in the race at the time I pulled. My muscles first started to grab at the 30-meter mark. It went away momentarily so I relaxed and tried to run on and then it grabbed and locked up again."

He collapsed, flipped, and skinned his back on the tartan track.

Hardy sat out the year after college to allow his leg to recuperate and to get his insurance career on a solid footing. But the effects of the injury lingered long after the muscle healed.

"Before that injury, I was able to picture myself running a race from the start to finish," he said. "When I first stepped on a track a year after I graduated, I had a mental block. I would picture myself pulling all the time. At the 40-meter point, I would just go blank.

"When race time came, if I felt a pinpoint sore in my leg it was magnified because I felt like that was a point where I would tear a muscle. After the race, it felt like someone hit me with a bat in the leg.

"It's taken three years to get that behind me."

At the sound of the starter's gun in college meets, everyone was behind him. A lithe 6-foot-4, Hardy is an imposing figure. His size, Occidental Coach Bill Harvey says, often intimidated opponents.

"People knew he was the killer," Harvey said. "You always look a little taller when you're winning. They looked at him and said, 'My God!' "

Adding to Hardy's mystique is the fact that he wears sunglasses during a race. What began as an embarrassing miscue has now become habit.

While stretching for a race during his sophomore year, Hardy was called to the starting blocks. He hastily removed his sweats but, deep in concentration, forgot to shed his glasses.

"The starter asked, 'Son, you going to run with your shades on too?' " recalled Hardy. "I kind of played it off and said, 'No, no, I was going to run with them on.' He fired the gun and I ran, like, a 10.65.

"Ever since then, it kinda stuck. When I try to run without them now I squint and my neck tightens up."

Harvey subscribes to a theory that there are two types of runners: plow horses and thoroughbreds. Hardy, he says, is a thoroughbred.

"Malcom is a guy that needs to work very hard in the weight room and run a little to be technically sound," Harvey said. "He doesn't need to go out and do a whole bunch of repeats. The most important elements of his running are strength and flexibility.

"When he's strong, he's a pretty splendid machine."

That might not be apparent during his workouts. Harvey says Hardy is an "ugly runner" when he loafs, but "it's a pretty sight to see him at full speed."

"A lot of freshmen would see him working out and secretly think this guy is not really that good," Harvey said. "Then, they'd see that same guy at a meet and stop in their tracks."

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