"Hurdling is more mental than physical. You have to bring your thoughts and skills together. It's only in a few races a year when everything is going for you. I call it the perfect race. I've run one perfect race when I set the world indoor record. I feel another perfect race coming in the next two days."
- Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah
Skeets Nehemiah has cased the field and says there is no one who can beat him in his specialty - the 110-meter high hurdles. He is cool, confident and in the best physical and mental condition of his young life.
The 18-year-old Maryland freshman will run the biggest race of his buding career today against UCLA's Greg Foster and James Owens and San Jose State's Dedy Cooper in the high hurdles in the NCAA Track and Field Championships at the University of Oregon.
"The main thing is that one of us isn't physically superior to the others," Nehemiah preliminary heat. "The key is being sharpest mentally.Everyone is just about equal in terms of physical ability, so it is the guy mentally strongest who will win."
Foster had the fastest time in yesterday's quarterfinal heats with 13.38. Nehemiah won his heat in 13.54. The other heat winners were Owens in 13.52 and Cooper in 13.56. All times were wind-aided.
Maryland's Greg Robertson stumbled over the fifth hurdle in his heat and finished a nonqualifying fourth in Foster's heat.
Foster, the 6-foot-3 Bruin Strongman, is the only one in the fields who has beaten Nehemiah, accomplishing the feat in Los Angeles May 7.
"He (Foster) ran his maximum race and barely nicked one hurdle," Nehemiah said. "He says he ran me down, but he was chasing me the whole way and I banged six of the 10 hurdles. He gained ground every time I hit one. I ran 13.37 to his 13.34 and he had to lean at the tape to beat me. There is no way he will do that again."
The next week, in Jamaica, Nehemiah ran 13.47 in beating Owens and Olympian Charles Foster.
"I'm ready now," Nehemiah said yesterday." (Greg) Foster is cocky, but we're on neutral ground now and this is where it counts - in the nationals.
"I feel extra good. All of my flaws are behind me. I'm ready for that perfect race.
"Hopefully, I can run away with this thing and not be pushed at the finish. I'm ready, but not the least bit nervous."
Nehemiah, who has run a 10.18 wind-aided 100 meters, is fastest of the top hurdlers here and at 6-foot-1, 164 puonds, is also the smallest. Nehemiah looks at that as an advantage.
"Foster is real strong and just overpowers the hurdles, but I can shift at different stages of the race. The race does not control me like it does him," Nehemiah said.
"Foster is 6-3 and the 10 yards between hurdles confines him. He can't stride out like he wants to. I'm smaller and can use all of myself between the hurdles. In this race, it's not who's the strongest, but who uses his strength best. I feel I can run faster over hurdles than I can in an open sprint."
It was not always that way for Nehemiah. In high school in Scotch Plains, N.J. "I wasn't even fast until my senior year."
Nehemiah was a 10.5 100-yard dash man as a high school junior when he severely pulled a hamstring muscle.
"I had no speed at all then, so I had to find another event," he said.
The event was the high hurdles. With near flawless form and a sudden development of speed, Nehemiah, in his senior year last year, ran the 120-yard high hurdles in 12.9, the 100 in 9.4 and the 220 in 20.9 and was named the prep track athlete of the year.
Nehemiah doesn't like the West Coast so he ruled out attending college there. "I wanted to go somewhere where they had another young hurdler who could help me improve," he said.
That brought Nehemia to Maryland and teammae Greg Robertson, who has run 13.71.
Nehemiah becomes stronger as a race goes on, so he said he ran indoors this year basically "as a perparation, to get the first part of my race going."
The result was a world-record 7.07 in the 60-yard high hurdles.
In the national championships here, Nehemiah will also run a leg of Maryland's 400-meter relay team and would be a threat in the 100 and 200 if he entered those events. He says that running the 100 takes away from his hurdle form but would like to run the 200, although it is virtually impossible to double in the two events because of the way the heats are set up.
The Maryland 400-meter relay team of Nehemiah, Robertson, Andre Lancaster and Robert Calhous qualifies, easily for today'sancaster and Robert Calhous qualified, easily for today's"You have a lean when you run the 100," Nehemiah said. "But you can get into your stride and run more straight up in the 200. That's the way you run the hurdles, too."
After the NCAA, Nehemiah will go to the AAU championships next weekend in Los Angeles and then to Europe for competition against Alejandro Casanas of Cuba and Thomas Munkelt of East Germany, two of the top hurdlers in the world.
This all fits neatly into Nehemiah's plans.
An outstanding high school football player, he said he didn't want to play that sport in college "because football isn't too good for hurdlers. I figure on going Olympics my junior year and then I'll have a year left to play football.
"Right now, all I want to do is run."