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It is nearing noon on a wintry Wednesday as a glistening new Thunderbird cruises through the slums of North Philadelphia. A r�sum� on the seat beside the driver identifies him as Steven Earl Riddick, 25 years old, married, with a B.S. in psychology from Norfolk State College. The first name listed under "References" is "Governor Shapp, Pennsylvania." The most recent entries under "Accomplishments" are "1976—Olympic Team Gold Medalist 4x100 Relay" and "1975—Fastest Sprinter in the World." Were the subject to bring the r�sum� up to date he could, without undue boasting, add "1977—World's Fastest Human." Only once so far this year has anyone beaten Steve Riddick to a finish line.
On this particular morning, however, Riddick is running way behind schedule. He is late for a job interview. He needs a job. Such is the lot of a track star. The position available is that of a counselor in an "environmental center," a term used for institutions that house certain "socially deprived children." "If you're mean as hell or on drugs, you can't go to public school," explains Riddick in less euphemistic terms. Unfortunately, the address he has been given turns out to belong to an abandoned junkyard. While he tries to find the center, his eyes dart from broken glass to gutted tenement to vacant lot to stripped car. It is clear that Riddick does not feel at ease, "I think this job is too rough for me," he finally says.
Riddick has done part-time counseling, but in a better neighborhood. "I enjoy working with underprivileged people," he says. "They appreciate success more when they get it and they work harder to get it. Nine times out of 10 they don't abuse success. Only occasionally do you get a picklebrain."
Passing the junkyard for the third time, Riddick is beginning to suspect that a picklebrain arranged the job interview. "I'm lost and I'm mad now," he says. Clearly he is lost, but the anger doesn't show. "Fortunately, I never had it this bad," he says, depressed by the bleak streets, "but I know about it. If you're black, you know about it. Half your friends live this way."
As he turns a corner, a pair of miniature green running spikes hanging from the rearview mirror sway. They are replicas of the lime green ones he races in. The T-bird is green, too. Riddick, in fact, is a meticulously coordinated vision in green—dark green blazer, light gray-green slacks and matching vest, green print tie and green handkerchief.
At last he finds the environmental center. It isn't far from the junkyard but its entrance is on a side street. Riddick glances at his watch. "Oh, how I hate to be late," he mutters.
When you are chasing recognition as the World's Fastest Human, being late can indeed be tragic. "I consider myself the fastest man alive," says Riddick. "I have to believe that in order to compete at this level." During the winter indoor season Riddick won 15 of 16 sprints at distances from 50 yards to 60 meters. That lone loss—he finished fourth behind Don Quarrie, Ed Preston and Johnny Williams—came in his third meet of one exhausting weekend. It was also his 13th race of the year, and it fell on the 13th day of February. Perhaps more significantly, the race took place in Montreal, and it was in Montreal last July that Riddick suffered the bitterest disappointment of his running career, finishing fifth in a semifinal of the Olympic 100-meter dash when he turned his head five yards from the tape to see how the rest of the field was doing. The first four finishers qualified for the finals.
Ten days after that lone indoor loss, Riddick achieved a unique double under no less trying conditions. On Wednesday night he won the 60-meter dash in Milan, setting an Italian indoor record of 6.66. Two nights later he capped his U.S. indoor campaign with a victory in the 60-yard dash in the AAU national championships at Madison Square Garden. In that race he had moved from last to first with just five graceful strides late in the race and broke the tape with his right fist held high in exultation.
The raised fist has become a Riddick trademark. He says it is his way of expressing the frustration he has felt at not being recognized for his accomplishments. In large measure Riddick's 1977 indoor season can be viewed as one continuous race for acclaim. Despite his ranking as fastest sprinter in 1975—the result of running the fastest electronically timed 100 meters that year and the sixth fastest of all time, 10.05, in Zurich—and his brilliant anchor leg in the Olympic 4x100-meter relay last year, Riddick had not been invited to the first major indoor meet of the 1977 season, the Sunkist Games in Los Angeles. He virtually forced meet promoter Al Franken into issuing an invitation, by winning a 60-yard dash in 5.9, just .1 off the world record, at Richmond, Va. the weekend before the Sunkist. "We decided that was the first and it wasn't going to be the last," says Riddick's coach, Alex Woodley. At the Sunkist, Riddick won both the 50-and 60-yard dashes, beating Houston McTear in the shorter race and 100-meter Olympic gold medalist Hasely Crawford in the other. He hasn't been uninvited since.
"The significance of this indoor season," says Woodley, "is that Steve has projected himself. Now when you have a 100 outdoors, it won't be world class unless Steve is in it. The aficionados will say, 'Why no Riddick?' He's been emblazoned on their minds by winning all these meets. And now he won't be forgotten if he loses one or two races. He's built up a sort of insurance policy."