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Foster Taking Things in His Considerable Stride : He Says He Has Put the Olympic Setback Behind Him--and Dreams of '88

February 03, 1985|MICKEY SPAGNOLA | Dallas Times Herald

DALLAS — Greg Foster, the temper of track and field, the guy whose sulking ways turned everyone else's blue skies gray, has mellowed.

He's L.A. laid back these days, rolling with life's punches. No longer is he hung up on retribution or tantrums or playing the consummate brooder. No longer does he glare down life with those I'll-show-you daggered eyes.

He's, like, man, at ease.

Goodness knows, he used to be a bitter person. He could have been--would have been?--the world's greatest hurdler during his college days at UCLA had it not been for Renaldo Nehemiah. As long as there was Renaldo Nehemiah, Greg Foster was second best. He never adapted to the Avis life.

"I'd try to go out and work too hard . . . be out there the next day," Foster said of those frustrating days. "I'd say things I didn't mean about other hurdlers. I used to get pretty upset, to the point of feeling like I wanted to (quit) at some point."

Foster would never quit. He had to keep going, becoming No. 1 became an obsession. "It's not a goal of mine to take second place to no one," he still says.

Nehemiah, who still owns world records in the indoor 50- and 60-yard hurdles and the outdoor 110-meter hurdles (Foster just broke his 50-meter hurdle world mark last Sunday in Chicago) opened the door for Foster. He took the sure pay day, giving up track for pro football with the San Francisco 49ers in 1982. It was to be Foster's reign.

And he clutched it, too, becoming the No. 1-ranked hurdler at 110 meters in 1982 and 1983. Foster, who grew up in suburban Chicago, won the 1983 World Championships at Helsinki, then entered what had been world's fastest 110 meters (13.19) for 1984 while winning the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Once at the Games, he quickly positioned himself for the gold by running Olympic record-tying heats of 13.24. One more race, just one more victory, and the second-best stigma would be buried. Maybe forever.

"A guy once wrote in the paper that 'if Greg Foster didn't win the gold medal, he'd probably kill himself,' " said Foster.

Well, life had one more punch for Greg Foster. He didn't win the gold medal as unheralded Roger Kingdom beat him by .03 of a second. Greg Foster didn't kill himself.

"That has been the easiest part," Foster said of living with the silver medal. "I handled it well. I think people were just looking forward to me throwing another tantrum or acting like a crybaby. It was just no big deal.

"But don't get me wrong, I'd give anything to win the race."

What happened to the tears, the fits of anger, the vengeful drive that once dominated Greg Foster's losing?

Maybe, Foster says, it stems from all the pre-Olympic publicity. "There was so much build-up prior to the meet, that when the time came around for the Games it just didn't seem as big a meet," he said. "It was just easy to deal with losing."

Maybe, Foster says, having a family reconstructed life's priorities. "My son (3 years old) went to school the next day bragging that his dad won the silver medal," Foster said. "And my mom was right there after the race smiling real big. The old days are over. I've got better things to do than sit around and be mad. I have a family now, and that's helps out a lot."

And just maybe, Greg Foster has grown up.

"My philosopy is if I win or lose, my life is still the same," he said. "Nobody can win all the time. I once told myself I would never let it bother me again like it used to. If I'm consistent, and I think I have have been over the last eight years, that's what is most important, next to my family and God.

"Before I put too much pressure on myself by going out and saying, 'I've got to win,' when in reality, I don't have to win."

No sooner were the words out that Foster offered some real-life proof of his character reformation that afternoon at the Sunkist Invitational. A member of Track and Field News informed Foster the magazine's 1984 rankings were out. "You sure you want to hear this?" the guy asked.

"Yeah, go ahead," said Foster, seemingly resigned to inevitable doom.

"You're No. 2 behind Kingdom."

"Really," said Foster, the hurt, the disappointment, the realization of being No. 2 all over again welling in his eyes.

Only once had Kingdom actually beaten Foster on the track. Three other times--twice in Europe after the Olympics--Foster was forced out of races by injuries. Foster had beaten Kingdom three times and owned the fastest time in the world (13.15) in 1984. Yet he was second.

"One race?" Foster asked.

He shrugged instead of shouting, spoke calmly instead of angrily, saying, "Oh well, guess I've just got to get it back."

Really, it doesn't bother you?

"I can't understand why I'm ranked No. 2," he said. "But I'm not going to get mad."

Ten days ago at the Millrose Games in New York, Foster met Kingdom for the first time indoors in '85. He won easily over 60 yards, 6.97 to 7.07, flashing a look at Kingdom while breaking the tape.

"I'm out here to beat the field, not Kingdom," said Foster, who announced he'd probably sit out the 1986 outdoor season before resuming training for the 1988 Olympics.

Last Sunday in Chicago, Foster broke the 50-meter hurdles world record, running 6.30 in a trial heat to eclipse Nehemiah's mark by .06.

"I don't think I have to prove anything to anyone anymore," Foster said. "Just to myself. I don't need to say anything about anyone anymore. I just don't feel like that anymore. I'm going to be happy for the rest of my life. And as long as I'm happy, I'm not going to worry.

"Those days are over."

Like, at last, man.

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