Two years ago, after he had tacked another world record into his Olympic championship, Edwin Moses passed out buttons bearing his picture to the crowd at the national AAU championships, "so they will know who I am."
For Renaldo Nehemiah, identity is not the problem. It is privacy. If Nehemiah were the type to seek a moment of quiet meditation during the day, he would have a tough time finding that moment by himself.
At the AAU track meet that concluded here Sunday, Nehemiah was the constant target of meet directors, equipment salesmen, club spokesmen, media representatives and glad-handers.
He could not take a step below running speed without encountering a hand or a microphone. After he finished running, he had to request the surrounding throng to step back so he could pull on his sweat clothes.
Nehemiah always has cooperated with the media, but after Los Angeles newspapers magnified some comments he made during a question-and-answer session at a writers' luncheon, inspiring ULCA Coach Jim Bush to respond in kind, Nehemiah buttoned his lip.
Sample conversation between Nehemiah and an eastern sportswriter Friday, after Nehemiah showed evidence of a foot injury in his semifinal:
Writer: "Hello, Skeets."
Nehemiah: "I have no comment."
Writer: "You could say hello."
Nehemiah later greeted the writer with some cordiality and discussed the foot problem, but he carefully avoided most of the press contingent. He ignored a photo session scheduled with Sports Illustrated, instead racing to the aiport to catch a plane to Sweden and, hopefully, a few moments of peace.
"That may have cost him the cover," the Sports Illustrated writer said.
It is doubtful that Nehemiah cared, although earlier this year, before his frequent world records made him a public figure, he was quoted, "I'd like to make the hurdles a more glamorous event by trying to do the impossible week in and week out, running records and getting the attention of the fans and the media."
Nehemiah's coach, Frank Costello, tried hard here to keep Nehemiah away from the unshifting spotlifht. He failed and he sees the task becoming more difficult.
"Everybody would like a piece of the pie," Costello said. "People are shoving things in his face and grabbing at him every second. Each meet it gets worse. The kid should be able to walk around, but he can't. He has to run and hide. He's scared to go anywhere. It's the price you pay for being a celebrity.
"Everybody wants him. I have to tell people I don't know where he is or he wouldn't have a moment to himself. I know Skeets Nehemiah better than anybody here and he's an absolutely super kid. But he's a private kid. He likes his privacy and what he wants to do more than anything is just go out with his girlfriend and not have anybody know he's Nehemiah.
"He can't do that. The only way we could avoid all this is to put him in an armored car and sit him there until he has to run. And next year it's going to get worse. The important things next year are school and winning the Olympic gold medal. I hope he can concentrate on them, but with all these other things I just don't know.
"Skeets has always been candid with the press, but I'm afraid he'll go into a shell. He's been misquoted, not by reputable writers, but by others he's run into.
"In Jamaica, they were all over him as soon as he got off the plane. They wanted to know whether he would run a world record and he said if conditions were right and the competition was right, it was possible. Next day the headlines said 'Nehemiah Predicts World Record.' He doesn't need that kind of pressure on himself."
Some people would even like to take the shirt off Nehemiah's back. Several clubs sought his affiliation for this meet, since Maryland is not permitted to pay his way here. He first agreed to represent Athletic Attic, then changed a couple of days before the meet to D.C. International, to help some friends and advisers who are trying to build up that club's image.
"I have to wear a shirt, so I wore this shirt," Nehemiah said, pointing to the D.C. International symbol. "What's all the fuss about?"
As he will discover, even his choice of breakfast food is likely to become an important item to some people. In the Olympic year, the problem of finding privacy is certain to reach Olympian proportion.
At least, the "feud" with Bush seems unlikely to grow. Bush is the Pan American Games coach and Nehemiah will be one of his athletes, so the ingredients for trouble are present, if either should continue the chip-on-shoulder attitude. However, neither wishes to escalate matters.
"I'm going to sit down with him when he gets back," Bush said. "I know he is a great kid. I just didn't like him coming into my backyard and saying some of those things. But I had a thing going with Steve Prefontaine a few years ago and we talked it out over a few beers and became great friends.
"Pre came up to me after a meet and you could see everybody looking for trouble, but we put our arms around each other and had a good laugh."
Bush saw Costello sitting in the stands, stopped and said, "Why don't we walk around with our arms on each other's shoulders and give these guys something to talk about?"
If it would just keep people off his back for a while, Nehemiah would be the first to applaud. CAPTION: Picture, Renaldo Nehemiah