Twenty-nine straight times he had placed first, setting seven world marks in an unprecedented eight-week assault on the indoor record books. But today, Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah came up against his toughest foe yet: himself.
"I'm my own worst enemy," said the sensational University of Maryland sophomore after running around the final hurdle -- automatic disqualification -- in an IC4A Indoor Track and Field Championship 60-yard hurdle qualifying race at Princeton's Jadwin Gym.
"I tend to lose concentration. I'm human. I can get beat. It's a valuable lesson. In the NCAAs next week, you'll see a different me."
The world record-holder had not been defeated since Aug. 9.
"People think Nehemiah is bionic," said Frank Costello, the Maryland coach. "People are going to say now, 'My God! Skeets is human!'"
Nehemiah's disqualification did not entirely snuff out Maryland's hopes of ending Villanova's three-year title reign in this two-day meet. But chances are dim, even after Terps Bob Calhoun, Dennis Ivory and Vernon Kent placed 1-3-4 in the long jump while last year's runner-up, Villanova's Derrek Harbour, did not score.
"Skeets' mistake cost a sure 10 points," said Calhoun, who leaped 25-5 to overtake Penn's James Brown (25-2 3/4) on his next-to-last jump. "But guys on the team will put out more. Knowing Skeets, he'll go out next week and break a world record. It will make him meaner."
The disqualification occurred in a rarely climactic quarterfinal series in which 12 of the 18 competitors were to advance.
Nehemiah zoomed to a three-yard lead only to stumble over the next-to-last hurdle. He found himself on a crash course with the final barrier and decided to avoid possible injury, zipping around it. Nevertheless, he crossed the finish line in 7.42 seconds, well ahead of runner-up Mike Willis (7.58) of Army.
"I'm puzzled," said Nehemiah, whose world record is 6.89. "I don't understand it. The race is a blur. It happened so fast. I couldn't see too good. I lost my blance. By the time I regained it, I was too close to the final hurdle. I didn't realize I had veered around it until after the race, when I analyzed the race in my mind."
Hurdlers cannot coast home after jumping to big leads like sprinters; this wrecks the precision of their steps.
"I think what happened is that the straightaway has a big hump in it," said Calhoun, who did not defend his 60-yard dash title because of a slight hamstring strain. "I think he came down on it, and it threw everything off -- his balance, his timing."
Nehemiah raced with an irritating sty in his left eye. A physician examined it before the race but prescribed no treatment.
"I can't blame it on that," Nehemiah said. "The hurdles were properly spaced. I was winning. It had to be some thing mental. It could have been a subconscious letdown.'