THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 7 : Kingdom Wants to Win Again in Hurdles
For big, strong Roger Kingdom, the Olympic 110-meter high hurdles might as well be a martial arts event.
“I’m prepared to be like a taekwondo expert,” the 6-foot 3-inch, 190-pound Kingdom said. “Hit me, punch me, kick me--I’m not going down. I’m coming at you.”
The aggressive Kingdom has been attacking the hurdles this season, but with a lot more direction and finesse.
He has run 13.20 seconds or under seven times, more than any hurdler in one year.
He has run faster than 13.10 three times, only one short of Renaldo Nehemiah’s record of four, and could have as many as four more chances to beat that if he makes it to the finals next week.
He has run 12.97, the second-fastest clocking in history, behind Nehemiah’s world record of 12.93.
He is undefeated in 20 races, including 15 finals.
And he is the defending Olympic champion.
Naturally, Kingdom is the heavy favorite for the gold. He thinks he can win again, joining fellow American Lee Calhoun, the 1956 and 1960 Olympic champion, as the only two-time high hurdles winners in Games’ history--and break the world record in the process.
“That’s what I’m shooting for--the record,” Kingdom said. “I have four races to beat it. But anything can happen. I have to be prepared for the unexpected.
“I keep telling people it’s not that easy. They kept saying that about Greg Foster in 1984 (that he would win the gold), and I came up and won.
“They’re now saying that about me. I’m working to make sure the unexpected doesn’t happen.
“The only unexpected thing that could happen is if I break the record in the first two rounds.”
Kingdom, 26, of Monroeville, Pa., has been getting his mind set and his body adjusted to Seoul since last year. Starting last December, he began working out as early as 2 a.m. to prepare for his body for the time difference in Seoul.
“It’s peaceful then,” he said. “There are no walkers, no joggers, no traffic. Just working out like that kept me on correct time.
“Sometimes when I went out, it was freezing cold or it was snowing,” Kingdom said.
His mother remembered those bitter cold days.
“I said to him, ‘Are you going to work out now?”’ Christine Kingdom recalled. “It’s snowing and the streets are sticky with ice.”
“She was afraid for me,” Kingdom said.
“Now, the only thing I have to do to complete the season is win,” he said. “I can’t (afford to) have a bad race.”
That’s because some of the other top hurdlers--Tonie Campbell and Arthur Blake of the United States, Mark McKoy of Canada and Colin Jackson of Britain--are running well.
Kingdom’s most recent race was Sept. 3, at Athens, where he ran 13.03, despite a severe cold. He was in the same poor condition at Sestriere, Italy, on Aug. 11, when he ran the 12.97.
“I always have to run under adversity,” Kingdom said.
Included in that adversity is a torn left hamstring that has been bothering him since July 1985.
“I still have spasms in the leg,” he said. “It gets very stiff, after training and after races. I tore the muscle sheath, and the muscle still bulges after I run. I still have to get it rubbed, and I need both ice and heat. I may have to go through that the rest of my career.”
Kingdom admitted that when he arrived in Seoul, he had a “blase attitude” toward the Games.
“When I first got here, I was down,” he said. “I just didn’t feel into the Olympics.
“But after opening ceremonies, it hit me, and I was energized like a little kid,” he said.
“I’m ready now.”