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'Neglected' Hurdler Determined to Win Respect at Sunkist Meet

January 15, 1987|ALAN DROOZ | Times Staff Writer

With the return of Renaldo Nehemiah to track and the re-ignition of his rivalry with Greg Foster, the 60-meter high hurdles event has become the centerpiece of Friday's Sunkist Meet at the Sports Arena.

But somehow the glamour has never rubbed off on other hurdlers, such as Olympic champion Roger Kingdom and local entry Tonie Campbell, a 1984 Olympian.

Campbell, 26, who has ranked as high as second in the United States in the high hurdles, is out to correct that oversight Friday.

"I am feeling kind of neglected," he said from his Carson home this week. "I have a few accomplishments. I think I can hold my own, seeing as I've beaten everybody in the race. Some of those guys are getting real hyper. I'm just going to go in, try to do my best and command some respect."

Friday's field will include Foster and Nehemiah, who is returning to track after four fitful seasons as a wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers, as well as Campbell and Kingdom.

While Foster and Nehemiah have fueled the war of words, Campbell has been playing it cool for more than half a year. He dropped out of the European summer tour to take stock of his career and says he's coming back with enthusiasm.

"I went back to my old coach and started training like I was a freshman at college again," he said.

Campbell also is helping coach the UC Irvine track team and is running with the collegians.

"I'm comfortable," he said. "I run with the kids. They like to beat the old man and I can't let that happen. I'm in really good shape. I won't say I'm in great shape until I win Friday."

Campbell said the shorter indoor races are not his forte, but he is one of only a handful of hurdlers in the world to break seven seconds in 60 meters. (At one time only he, Nehemiah and Chicago Bears wide receiver Willie Gault had broken that barrier. Several others have since joined the club.) He has won NCAA and Athletics Congress titles in that event and has held the American record.

And he points out that Nehemiah, who once held records in all four hurdle sprints (60 yards and 60 meters indoors, 110 meters and 120 yards outdoors), now holds only the 110-meter record after his four-year layoff. Nehemiah remains the only man who has ever run the 110 high hurdles in less than 13 seconds. Campbell was part of the field when Nehemiah ran 12.93 in August, 1981.

"His outdoor record definitely commands respect," Campbell said. "I don't think he'll be able to do that again. He'll be ranked in the world again but I don't think he'll get back into the 12's. He says he's fresh. I think he's rusty."

Campbell, who competed at Banning High and went on to star at USC, is finishing his degree in marine biology. The articulate track star is also interviewing with the U.S. Olympic Committee for a position as speaker and director of clinics.

He took the summer and autumn off to decide if he wanted to continue running. He said he wanted to prove to himself and to promoters he could live--and make a living--without track.

"I got tired of that whole scene in Europe," he said. "The meet promoters were getting to the point of 'They'll take anything we give 'em.' They were going home with more in their pockets than we were getting.

"Tonie Campbell doesn't need track to survive. I missed it--but (the time off) was the best thing for me, to see if I was serious. Now I'm ready to explode. It will be a homecoming for me Friday after more than a half-year layoff."

Campbell is already committed to the summer circuit in Europe and said he may continue to run for several more years. He'll remain in action at least through 1988 and the Olympics.

"I don't plan on going much past 1988, but you never know," he said. "Rod Milburn went into his 30s. As long as I have family and friends and fans to support me, and as long as I have love for the sport, I'll run."

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