Was ever a man better suited metaphorically to running the hurdles than Greg Foster? Possibly Job, though Foster would run a close second. Life keeps dragging out barriers and setting them in Foster's path. He was narrowly upset by Roger Kingdom in the 1984 Olympics, finishing second in Los Angeles. Then he failed to make the 1988 team because of a broken left arm.
Foster has broken other bones, crashed in major races and served a three-month suspension for using stimulants, which he insists he unwittingly ingested last year in an 89-cent pack of vitamins. Worst of all, in 1985 a car accident took the lives of his mother, an aunt, a cousin and a nephew. "I know that's the worst thing that will happen in my life," he says simply.
But Foster has proved to be resilient. "He has persistence," says Harrison Dillard, the 1952 Olympic 110-meter hurdles champion. "He keeps coming back from injury. He's going to be the one to show us how long a hurdler can go."
At last Friday night's USA/ Mobil Indoor Track & Field Championships in Madison Square Garden, Foster demonstrated emphatically that at 32 he is still exploring his limits. Indeed, he blew out of the blocks so fast in the 60-meter hurdles that, despite his clobbering the first hurdle with his trail leg, the race was over by the second. His time, 7.49, put him a meter ahead of Jack Pierce.
Foster emerged from the tunnel near the finish line screaming, "Yeah," and pumping his right fist. It was his sixth national indoor title. Only Dillard, with eight, has more.
Foster rued that collision with the first hurdle when he realized he had missed his world record by only .13. "I had to come back from zero," Foster said. "I wish Bobby [his adviser, Kersee] were here. He would have been amazed."
At 6'3", 188 pounds, Foster is an intimidating presence. He is a fitness fanatic who runs stairs in a 25-pound vest and is adding a weight room to his house in Chino Hills, east of Los Angeles. Standing next to him, you feel muscular potential ready to leap to life. "I never sit still," Foster says. "I can't sit still. I'm up at six every day doing something."
When he broke his foot last winter, Foster was given a choice: He could have an operation and wear a cast for two weeks, or he could skip the operation and wear a cast for six months. That was no choice. "I can't be immobilized at all," he says. He chose the operation.
Foster was the oldest national champ at Friday's 103rd nationals. Not only did the meet crown new ones and determine who would represent the U.S. at the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships in Seville, Spain, March 8 through 10, but it was also the high point of what has been a rather flat indoor season. Despite a crowd that seemed much smaller than the 11,483 announced by Garden officials, it was an outstanding track meet.
The men's and women's miles were stirring spectacles, but in wildly different ways. The men's was little more than a gutsy time trial for Noureddine Morceli of Algeria. After second and third 440s of 56.8 and 57.2 had brought Morceli to the three-quarter mark in 2:52.9, the crowd rose, anticipating a run at Eamonn Coghlan's world indoor record of 3:49.78. But Morceli, 21, didn't hold that pace. He finished in 3:52.99.