|Walt Murphy's News|
Last Updated: June 2, 2003
Memories from Penn
Nehemiah's one-day performance at the 1979 Relays, where he ran the three great anchor legs for Maryland, is considered one of the greatest [maybe THE greatest] in Relays history. Here's what I wrote in Eastern Track at the time:
"It rained during most of Thursday's women's program, poured that evening while the distance races were going on, rained off and on for the next two days, and everyone was muttering about the unfairness of it all, after months of anticipation for this annual spectacle. That is, until late Saturday afternoon, when Renaldo Nehemiah provided his own form of sunshine." (Renaldo had set the first of his three world records in the 110-hurdles just two weeks before Penn).
"My most vivid memory is of my 4x400 anchor leg. Although that day, which was cold and dreary, is remembered by so many for the way in which I overcame huge deficits, I still remember the agonizing pain I had once I crossed the finish line of that last race. When I finally recovered from that 400 leg, the stadium was completely empty. I was in so much pain, I actually thought I was going to have a heart attack."
As for the races themselves... (Nehemiah had already anchored the winning shuttle hurdles relay at 2:10pm) the 4x200 (5:00) actually hurt the most while I was actually running it. When I got the stick, we were behind what appeared to be about 15-20 meters. All I know is that I was embarrassed and just wanted to make it look competitive to the home stretch. I figured even in a defeat, it wouldn't look so bad if I gained substantially and then faded. When I approached the last turn, I realized that I wasn't that far behind. Maybe some 7-8 meters. So, I just put my head down and responded to the crowd's frenzied state. And that's how I passed the other runners within the last five meters. (unofficial split-19.4!) That one kicked my butt physically, because I had to sprint all out for the entire race. That's not usually how a 200 is run.
When it came around to the 4x400 final (6:00), I was already somewhat tired. And didn't care that much about winning. I just wanted Maryland to look respectable. But that was going to be difficult. Because, following the previous day's qualifying round in which I ran the 2nd leg, coach Frank Costello in a team meeting decided to put me on anchor. And my teammate, Chris Person(400mh), took it personally and was visibly upset. Although the coach and the other members felt Chris was good, they all stated that they would rather have me on the anchor if it was close. So, on race day, I'm the anchor and wouldn't you know it, our lead-off leg, normally a 47 point runner, ran 48-49 seconds. We were instantly well behind.
And we made no gains out of the next two legs. When I got the stick, it appeared to me that the other runners were almost
already taking the 2nd turn and headed down the backstretch. Angered and really embarrassed, I took the stick and sprinted a hard as I could to make up some ground. And although I knew I was running faster than advisable, I figured I'd hold on again until the final turn before hitting the wall. I figured it would be okay to lose at that point since I was so far behind. I would save face.
But, wouldn't you know that those fans on the third turn are wild and crazy! As I was approaching the turn just trying not to fall apart. I felt, heard and sensed the roars starting to get louder. I even heard the chanting and the drums from the Jamaicans. I immediately tried to respond by starting my kick just to add a last minute desperate surge before dying. And it was if my body went numb and had no feeling. So, I just ran harder and harder as the noise got louder. And before I knew it, I could see (Villanova's) Tim Dale and the finish line about 20 meters in front of me. As I was really starting to be overwhelmed by the pain, I dug one more time with all I had, and surged past a fading Dale and believe I won by a couple of meters. (split-44.3!)
When I finally appeared from the training room some hour and a half later, I told myself that I would not ever feel that type of pain again in my life. And I never ran another 400m again.
I'm amazed that so many people actually attended the relays that year, and continue to tell me how they've never seen a performance like that before. All in one day. I'm just happy that I was blessed to have been able to deliver. And to have left quite an impression on the many who were there, and to those who wished they were there. I was always motivated by the "Wow" theory. And on that day, I guessed I "Wowed' them."