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Track and Field / Randy Harvey : Foster Finds Friends in This Kingdom

After hurdler Roger Kingdom had lost a race for the first time in almost 11 months Saturday in Dallas, he called home to his mother in Vienna, Ga. He wanted sympathy.

She wanted to speak to the winner.

“Wait a minute, Mother dear,” Kingdom told her.

So Christine Kingdom humored her son. But when they finished talking, she still asked for Greg Foster’s hotel room number so that she could reach out and touch him, too.

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“My mother has adopted him,” Kingdom said this week from his home in Pittsburgh. “She loves the guy. When I’m talking to her, she brings up his name more than mine.”

After meeting Foster last July at the Olympic trials at Indianapolis, she was moved by his resolve to earn a place on the U.S. team in the high hurdles despite a broken arm. Foster, who lost his own mother in automobile accident several years ago, didn’t make it, but he did make a friend for life.

“She talked with him and prayed with him,” Kingdom said. “She told me, ‘I feel like he’s one of my own sons.’ ”

That doesn’t mean Foster and Kingdom always act like brothers. Check them out before they run in the 55-meter hurdles Friday night at the Sports Arena in the Sunkist Invitational. They won’t even look at each other, much less shake hands.

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“If you see us after the race, we’re fine,” Kingdom said. “But before the race, we don’t even know each other. All I know is that he wants me, and I want him.”

That sounds like the hype for the wrestling shows at the Sports Arena, but the hurdlers don’t need a script. Perhaps it’s the nature of their event, having their sprints interrupted every few yards by those pesky hurdles. It makes them testy.

Although he can be charming otherwise, Foster is particularly intense when it’s time to compete. After winning in the 1987 Sunkist, in a race that was billed as the second coming of Renaldo Nehemiah, Foster wouldn’t shake hands with Nehemiah. A few months later, Nehemiah had to step between Foster and another of the event’s outstanding performers, Tonie Campbell, to prevent a scuffle.

Foster always seems to have something to prove. For years, he wanted to prove that he was as good as Nehemiah, ranked No. 1 in the world for 3 years. Then, when he became No. 1 after Nehemiah’s temporary retirement into pro football, Foster wanted to prove that he was a worthy successor.

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Now he wants to prove that he is as good as Kingdom. Although Foster has won 2 outdoor world championships, Kingdom won his second Olympic gold medal in Seoul, becoming the first man to do so in the high hurdles since Lee Calhoun in 1960.

But Kingdom said that he also has something to prove during this indoor season.

“In any other case, the indoor season is not that important to me,” he said. “This year is different. I dominated the outdoor season, but people say that I’m not as good indoors as outdoors. I’m going to have to show them that I am.

“Indoors, Foster is dominant. So it’s important for me to beat that guy.”

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It didn’t happen at Dallas. Foster beat Kingdom at 55 meters in the first of several anticipated indoor meetings during this indoor season. Both were timed in 7.06 seconds, but it was determined that Foster reached the tape first.

He did it the hard way. Kingdom has superior speed, but he doesn’t have a particularly fast start or textbook technique. Conventional wisdom says that you can beat him by getting a jump on him out of the blocks and holding on.

At Dallas, Foster was cautious out of the blocks because of one false start already charged against him. Another would have resulted in his disqualification. Kingdom had the faster start. But Foster still caught and passed him.

“I’ve never seen anyone come back on me in a race like that,” Kingdom said.

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One of the high hurdler’s commandments, however, is that thou shalt not give credit to the winner.

Kingdom blamed his shoes, complaining that he didn’t have the proper spikes for a wooden track.

He won’t have the same shoes Friday night because he gave them to an autograph seeker.

“It wasn’t because he asked for them,” Kingdom said. “It was because I never wanted to see them again.”

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With new shoes, he vowed to win this time.

“I’ve learned the tricks,” he said. “I know what to do in order to win. I don’t think I’ll lose again indoors.

“I know Greg sees it differently. He said that he’s going for the world record (Nehemiah’s 6.89) at the Sunkist. I hope he runs that fast because that means I’ll get the record. I don’t plan on finishing second.”

Perhaps then his mother will give him equal time.

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Track Notes

You have to wonder how committed Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) is to his track career. He didn’t enter the legends’ 60-yard dash at the Sunkist Invitational Friday night because of a commitment in Washington. He said something about an inauguration. . . . There are four Mobil Grand Prix meets this weekend, including the Sunkist. The others are the Ottawa (Canada) Winternational Games Friday night, the U.S. West/Koin Indoor at Portland Saturday night and the Sherbrooke (Canada) International Sunday night.

Sunkist promoter Al Franken said that high jumper Louise Ritter, 30, isn’t competing in his meet because he couldn’t afford her post-Olympic gold medal appearance fee. That hasn’t prevented her from making deals with other promoters, but she said that she’s still far from rich. “The phone rings a lot more, and I did get a raise in the appearance fees I get in meets,” she said. “But as far as commercials and big things, there’s been nothing. I guess the companies are using Florence (Griffith Joyner) and (swimmer) Matt Biondi. I thought there might be a place for an old lady, but it hasn’t happened. I didn’t want to win an Olympic gold medal for endorsements, though. I wanted to win it for me.”

Diane Dixon, who holds the American record indoors at 400 meters, 440 yards and 500 meters, announced her engagement this week and it wasn’t to Mike Tyson, with whom she has been linked recently. Dixon will compete in the Sunkist at 440 yards against a field that includes Valerie Brisco, Lillie Leatherwood and Sandra Farmer Patrick. . . . Steve Scott, who finished fifth in the 1,500 at the Olympics, said that he will move to the 5,000 outdoors this year.

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