For the first time in seven years, Greg Foster and Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah, the two fastest high hurdlers in the history of track and field, met outdoors Tuesday night. But Foster hardly acknowledged the significance of the occasion. He could not be bothered with settling an old score, so busy was he with a new one.
Seething over comments Tonie Campbell made to reporters after winning the 110-meter high hurdles Friday night at the Mobil Grand Prix Final in Brussels, Foster ran the fastest time of the year, 13.17, Tuesday night to beat Campbell, Nehemiah and four others at the Super Athletics '87 Meet in the Olympic Stadium.
As soon as the race ended, Foster began shouting at Campbell, who finished second in 13.28.
"Who's No. 1?" Foster said. "Who's No. 1?"
After an exchange of insults, they advanced toward each other until Nehemiah stepped between them. Considering that Campbell, who lives in Los Angeles, plans to move into a house about three miles from Foster's home in Ontario, it was not very neighborly behavior.
"When I was running, I won all the time, and didn't have to worry about it," said Nehemiah, the world record-holder who made a track and field comeback last summer after playing professional football for four years. He finished sixth here in 13.71.
"Now one guy wins, and the other guy's mad, and I've got to break it up. I'm the one who should be mad. I'm the world record-holder, and I'm getting my butt kicked."
Even before the encounter between Foster and Campbell, the high hurdles was the highlight of the year's last major outdoor meet. Of the 14 fastest performers of all time, six were in this race.
They were assured of center stage when Canadian Ben Johnson again refused to meet Carl Lewis. It was the third time since Johnson beat Lewis in the 100 meters at the world championships 17 days ago in Rome, setting the world record of 9.83 in the process, that they have competed in the same meet but failed to run against each other.
The promoter here accommodated Johnson, arranging a rare outdoors 60 meters race, which Johnson won in 6.56.
Aware from the press report that Johnson had withdrawn from the 100 when he discovered Lewis was entered, a crowd of 19,000 whistled their disapproval of the Canadian before and after his race.
In contrast, the crowd gave Lewis a standing ovation when he came onto the track for the 100, which he won in 10.11, and again two hours later after he won the 200 meters in 20.02, the year's third-fastest time.
Johnson said the crowd's response did not bother him, but it was apparent that something did. He shoved a reporter who suggested Johnson was ducking Lewis.
"The world record took a lot out of me," Johnson said. "I'm very tired from that race. I want to go home and come back fresh next year. I finished my job in Rome. That's what counts."
Lewis said he also is tired after competing in three events at the world championships but believes he and Johnson should meet while fan interest is at a high level.
"I believe it's not fair for the sport for us not to run against each other," he said.
No one can accuse the high hurdlers of providing anything but the best entertainment this year.
There was a familiar face: Nehemiah, a former No. 1 who returned to face the current No. 1, Foster, in two highly publicized indoor races before injuring his knee and sitting out for seven months.
There was a new face: Rod Woodson, a Purdue cornerback who became the Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 draft choice, only to reject their offers and continue running track.
There were falls and more falls.
Foster was undefeated this year until the world indoor championships in February, when he and Canadian Mark McKoy wiped each other out in a spectacular collision. Campbell won.
Then Campbell, who had run the fastest time in the world (13.19), almost fell at the outdoor national championships in June and did not qualify for the world championships.
Then Foster fell at the Pan American Games.
Foster won the championship in Rome but lost a week later in Brussels to Campbell, who also collected the grand prize of $35,000 while Foster finished second for $23,000.
Afterward, Campbell called Foster a sore loser because Foster did not immediately congratulate him after the race. He also implied that Foster fakes injuries and said Foster purposely does not finish races that he is losing so that they will not count against him in the rankings.
Foster said he became aware of the comments when his brother in Los Angeles read them to him last weekend over the telephone.
But Woodson, who finished fifth here in 13.63, said he recognized the potential for trouble the first time he ran against them in May at the Pepsi Invitational in Westwood.
"They've been like this for a long time," he said. "Things have been adding up. I guess Tonie got a little tired of it."