"It's very unorthodox," Kingdom admits, "but it's going to be the style of the future because it gets you down off the hurdle much quicker. Let me get on the ground and I'm going to beat these guys."
And he does. He is undefeated in 15 finals this year and has beaten the top contenders for Seoul. (Two Soviets, Aleksandr Markin and Vladimir Shishkin, ran 13.20 and 13.21, respectively, in June in Leningrad, but Kingdom has not raced against them.) Kingdom also has beaten his own Olympic record of 13.20 seven times this year, the most sub-13.20's ever in a season.
Kingdom's journey over the 42-inch barriers is a blur of violent collisions. There is no rule against hitting hurdles, only against knocking them down deliberately. The real penalty is imposed by the clock.
"Roger is speed and power," former world-record holder Renaldo Nehemiah said at the Olympic trials in July. "He's not a great technician, but the days of the pretty hurdler are over. It's getting the job done [that counts]. The day hurdlers overcome their fear and are willing to take risks, that's when you'll see another sub-13."
The first sub-13 was by Nehemiah, who set the world record of 12.93 in 1981. The second occurred on Aug. 11, when Kingdom, who had been taking risks all year, finally saw them pay off. In the 6,668-foot altitude of Sestriere, Italy, he overcame a stumbling start to run 12.97.
By Kingdom's standards Sestriere was a clean race: He hit only two hurdles. However, three weeks earlier, in the Olympic trials final—the most important race he will run this year apart from the Olympic final itself—Kingdom hit the fourth hurdle so hard that it slammed down onto the track and bounced a foot into the air. He went on to hit the fifth, the seventh and the 10th hurdles before lunging across the line first in a wind-aided 13.21. If Kingdom wins in Seoul, he will become only the second hurdler to successfully defend the Olympic 110-meter championship; the first was Lee Calhoun, who won in 1956 and '60.
After the Games, Kingdom will return to Pitt to get the economics degree he has been working toward as a part-time student. He also plans to expand his track and field repertoire to 10 events, aiming for the 1992 Olympics as a decathlete. (He will continue, however, to compete in the hurdles.) Why not try the decathlon? Since high school Kingdom has improved his high jump best to 7'1�", put the shot 50 feet, long-jumped 25 feet and run 10.4 and 46.5 in the 100 and 400. "The only event I haven't done is the pole vault. So after the Olympics I'm going to find myself a good coach," he says.
For now, though, Kingdom is concentrating on one event and one race: "I have to win the Olympics...again." He stops and smiles. "Doesn't that sound good? Again."