Occasionally, sickness can be just the proper remedy. At least Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah may prove that such a paradox can be true here in the VII Pan American Games.

For months, the University of Maryland sophomore has been flying all over the country and the world trying to better his indoor and outdoor world records in the hurdles by a few hundredths of a second.

At every stop he has been badgered and begged, prodded at and provoked, by fans, meet organizers and media about whether this or that day will be a "record" meet.

Finally, here in the Pan Am Games with a showdown against his Cuban bad-blood foe Alejandro Casanas schedule for sundown Wednesday, Nehemiah can relax and smile.

You see, Nehemiah is sick, has been sick and fully intends to think of himself as sick until after these Games are history. It's a beautiful psychological crutch (as well as the truth), and he's not about to give it up.

"I brought this beautiful cold back with me from a meet in Finland where it was 35 degrees every day and I guess I wasn't dressed warmly enough," Nehemiah said after setting a Pan Am record in his 110-meter hurdles trial Monday.

"Starting last Tuesday, I had a temperature that went up to 103 degrees every day for five days. About all I did was sleep and drink juices.

"You know, it's been very restful being sick".

In the company of his germs, Nehemiah has been able to slow down his constant hurdling of one commitment one interview, one obligation after another.

"You realize you just have to put your own comfort first for a few days and get well."

It is conceivable that, with the World Cup approaching in Montreal next month, Nehemiah's cold may have come at an opportune time -- if, psychically rested, he can tune his body back to a peak again.

He may even have enough vim and vigor left to make Casanas feel sick -- as he has in their previous four handle meetings, all Nehemaih victories.

"I still don't feel good, though I expect to be just about normal by race time," Nehemiah said. "For several days it even took too much out of me to jog, but now I can work out some and sweat the last stages of it out of me.

"I don't know when I've felt as nervous as I did before my trial race shaky like you feel when you'er sick. I expect to run something like 13.8 I certainly didn't expect 13.38.

"But underneath I was very relaxed because there was no pressure on me to do well."

It has been rumored here constantly that Nehemiah has only brought his virus to San Juan because his new shoe company wants him to show off their flashy spikes in international company. Golly, would an amateur althlete care what his shoe company thought?

If Nehemiah's motives were mixed when he arrived, they are cleary defined now. Casanas made the mistake of seeing to that.

When Nehemiah and Casanas arrived at Escobar Stadium Saturday to work out, Wilbur Ross, author of the so-called "Hurdler's Bible," tried to get them together for a friendly word with himself as translator.

"He [Casanas] didn't exactly greet me with open arms....the exact opposite," Nehemiah said. "I think there's a lot of pressure on him in his country to stop losing to me and he's feeling it.

"I extended my right hand, but he gave me his left hand and shook my right elbow," Nehemiah said, still perplexed. Then he said, I am a Cuban,' like that explained it.

"It must be his idea of some kind of new psych-out, but I don't see how it's going to work. I'm the one who's beaten him four straight times.

"It didn't bother me. I'll still offer him my hand after the race. I'll always do that, but I'm not going to offer it real long if he doesn't look receptive."

Nehemiah is even easy in mind about the strategy of his race, since all his battles with Casanas and Charles Foster seem similiar.

"Casanas gets a good start, sometimes a rolling start," Nehemiah said, "but I'm used to that by now. I've caught him before. With he and Foster, the race is always the same. It's decided at the fifth hurdle. Whoever is ahead by then will probably win and whoever has to play catch-up probably won't.

It is Casanas who will carry most of the burden onto the track. The "ill" Nehemiah's 13.38 was better than the healthy Cuban's 13.53 in the trials. even if the wins, the triumph will seem tainted.

On the other hand, it seems reasonable to assume that Nehemiah's worldclass case of high-fever snifles will weaken him.

Nehemiah has the consolation of knowing he got yhr last word -- by proxy -- in his confrontation with Casanas.

"Wibur Ross was sort of ticked at Casanas and said a few things to him in Spanish," Nehemiah said.

"Ross pointed at me and said, "This man is a bullet, and no more can catch a bullet.'" CAPTION: Picture, Bobby Knight with basketball team in Pan Am Games. AP