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Ray Kennedy
January 29, 1979
Always keen in indoor track, in this pre-Olympic year rivalries have grown extra hot. Last week, world-record hurdlers Renaldo Nehemiah and Greg Foster led a parade of peerless pairs
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January 29, 1979

Weekend Of The Dauntless Duos

Always keen in indoor track, in this pre-Olympic year rivalries have grown extra hot. Last week, world-record hurdlers Renaldo Nehemiah and Greg Foster led a parade of peerless pairs

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The P.R. man was exhorting Greg Foster to whoop it up for the photographers. "Hey! Wow! Exciting!" he said. "You just broke a world record! Show some en-thu-si-asm!" But Foster, arguably the world's best hurdler last year, seemed more intent on verifying the results of his most recent race. "Aw, c'mon now, smile!" the drumbeater pleaded. "Do something." Finally, reluctantly, the UCLA junior relented. Let it here be recorded that last Friday night, shortly after his spectacular showing in the 60-yard hurdles at the Spectrum in the Philadelphia Track Classic, Greg Foster, the devout stoic, treated his admirers to a full-fledged grin.

Foster's concern about the official results was well founded. After studying a photo of the finish for about 20 minutes, the judges agreed that, yes indeed, coming off the final hurdle in a patented move that was more lunge than lean, Renaldo Nehemiah, the teen-age sensation from the University of Maryland—and last year's other No. 1—had propelled himself into a dramatic dead heat with Foster in the world-record time of 6.95. Since the introduction of automatic clocking, it was the first time that any hurdler, much less two in the same race, had broken the seven-second barrier.

The judges' ruling prompted Foster to get off his second big emotion-packed gesture of the evening, a so-what-else-is-new shrug. "I knew Renaldo was right next to me," he said. How had he known? "Heck, he's always right next to me." Clapping an arm around Foster, Nehemiah echoed, "We can't get away from each other. Really, I couldn't have a better person to run against. We're going to push each other to some really fast times."

It was the second time the two had met this indoor season. In the first meeting, at the Muhammad Ali Games in Long Beach, Calif., Nehemiah had won in a hand-timed 7.5 over 60 meters, while Foster had finished third. One week later, in College Park. Md., on his home track and without his West Coast rival to contend with, Nehemiah had lowered his 60-yard record from 7.07 to 7.02. "I know I can get under seven seconds," he said then, "if there is someone to push me." Nehemiah knew who would be happy to provide that pressure.

Sure enough, at the Spectrum on Friday night, Foster pressured both Nehemiah and himself past the seven-second barrier. Though he has a reputation as a slow starter, Foster was out of the blocks first, and Nehemiah had to play catchup, mowing down the second hurdle in his eagerness. "He ran a terrible race," said Nehemiah's coach, Frank Costello. "I was shocked." said Nehemiah. "Greg isn't known for his indoor racing." One thing was certain: after that splendid come-from-behind lunge for a share of the record, Nehemiah would not be complacent the next time he faced Foster.

That matchup came the very next evening at the Olympic Invitational in New York's Madison Square Garden. There, Nehemiah ran more to form. After two false starts, the second of which was charged to Foster, Nehemiah blasted to his third straight world record and his second of the weekend. "I was lucky that the first two starts didn't count, because I wasn't ready," Nehemiah said afterward. "On the third, I was right there, right in front of Greg."

"I got out a lot slower," said Foster, "because I couldn't risk being called again and thrown out of the race." Unchallenged, Nehemiah breezed to the finish in 6.88—an even more impressive record than the 6.95 set at Philadelphia the night before because the race was at 55 meters, 5.35 inches longer than 60 yards. Foster, straining to overcome his poor start, crashed into the third hurdle and never did regain his composure. Over the fifth and last hurdle he stumbled headlong and tumbled across the finish. Auburn's James Walker tripped over the sprawling hurdler, crashed head-first into a wall and sat dazed on the floor.

Despite their Destruction Derby finish, Foster was second in 7.09 and Walker third in 7.22. Surely this had been a perfect race for Nehemiah? "No race is perfect," he said. "You always go for a better time. Out there alone tonight I had to keep my composure. That's where you show perfection."

The two East Coast meets last weekend were not only a crucible in which Nehemiah and Foster were tested, they also brought together the finest indoor sprinters in the country. In 1977 Steve Riddick had won 15 of 16 sprints. Then last year Houston McTear set five world records, winning all his races but one—and in that event he was disqualified for two false starts. At this year's first major meet in Long Beach, Harvey Glance, the 21-year-old Auburn senior, got his spikes in the door by winning the 60 meters in 6.62, ahead of Riddick and World Cup winner Steve Williams. Then at Philadelphia last week Riddick came from behind McTear to win the 60 yards in 6.16. The jubilant Riddick raised his right arm in victory, a familiar gesture on the boards two years ago, but one the big sprinter didn't have much reason to display last year.

"I only won twice indoors last season." Riddick said. "And I haven't beaten Houston since 1977. I've been reading a lot of stories lately saying I'm getting old, and I feel slightly insulted. I'm 27, and I don't think that's getting old; I'm getting better. I'm still learning. This was a great race for me. Houston was out of the blocks first, but I was right there with him at 30 yards. He would have to have a 2½-yard lead at that point to beat me."

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