Despite the aftereffects of walking pneumonia, Renaldo Nehemiah ran faster than anybody else at Cole Field House last night. Maryland's Mr. Hurdles set a meet record of 7.01 seconds in the 60-yard highs and for the second straight year was named outstanding athlete of the meet.
Most of the other records were set in reverse and went largely unappreciated by the crowd of 7,876. The men's mile and 880 produced the slowest winning times in the meet's 13-year history and the first quarter of the mile took 66 seconds, one more second than the opening quarter of the women's 11-lap event.
Thomas Wessinghage of West Germany retained his mile title in 4.07.9 while the spectators booed and whistled. But there were nothing but loud cheers for Harvard's Darlene Beckford, who overhauled Wessinghage's wife, Ellen, to capture the women's version in 4.37.0.
Robin Campbell took the women's 880 in 2.08.2, Benita Fitzgerald set a meet mark of 7.80 in the women's 60-yard hurdles, Fred Sowerby won the 600 in a creditable 1.09.5 and Bill Olson captured the pole vault at 17-9.
It was Nehemiah, however, who made the night worthwhile. For a man in his condition and stage of training, running only to please the cosponsoring Maryland M Club and Catholic Youth Organization, Nehemiah turned in a remarkable effort.
The time sliced one-hundredth of a second off the meet standard Nehemiah set a year ago and was not all that far away from his world indoor best of 6.89. Nehemiah did it by blasting out of the blocks and holding off fast-closing Kerry Bethel, second in 7.05.
"I felt like an underdog," Nehemiah said. "I had been training only three weeks, without proper preparation over the hurdles, and I was sick, as you all know. I was pessimistic. I forgot that I was No. 1 and felt like just another athlete on the track.
"I'm not confident in my technical work at this point I'm still going off memory and my hurdling isn't what I like it to be at this stage. But as you say out there, I was competitive."
Pleased with a victory that was not all that certain at race time, Nehemiah could see other rays of light in his present situation.
"I've had trouble breathing and I've been told I had walking pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, a common cold and all the symptoms you can name," Nehemiah said. "but maybe it's all for the best.
"I'm psyched up for the 1980 season and prior to my illness I was training like a madman. Maybe the illness was a sign to slow down, take things a little easier."
The milers took things too easy to suit the crowd. Duke's John Donegan, the Georgetown Prep product, cut out the pace but he could hardly be considered a rabbit, turning the quarter in 1:06 and the half in 2:10. Wessinghage finally took over, but he was never pressed and declined to exert himself.
Much of the mile interest evaporated at 2:30 in the afternoon, when meet director Gerry McGee received a phone call from Villanova Coach Jumbo Elliott, reporting that Don Paige was "sick."
Another Villanovan, Brigid Leddy, set the pace in the women's mile and loud roars greeted her opening-quarter time of 1:05. After passing the half in 2:15, she gave way to Wessinghage, who led until Beckford kicked past with 60 yards left.
Campbell the Washington product who beat the Soviets at 14, came back from the West Coast, where she works in an ice cream parlor, to serve the home folks a winning sundae. She was disappointed, however, not to crack Charlotte Bradley's meet record of 2:06.6.
"My coach (brooks Johnson) told me to run the way I felt and I ran too much the way I felt -- slow," Campbell said. "I'm always twice as nervous running here. Maybe some day I'll learn to relax."
Fitzgerald, the Gar-Field High product now attending Tennessee made a shambles of the womens' hurdles, cutting 15 hundredths of a second off the record she set last year.