SAN DIEGO — San Diego's James King didn't look or sound like someone who has broken two Masters track world records in two days and three in two weeks. As the public-address announcer showered him with accolades, King shook his head and talked about what a pitiful race he had run.
"It's frustrating," King said after running a world age-group record of 53.56 seconds Friday afternoon to win the men's 40-44 400-meter hurdles at the TAC/USA National Masters Track & Field Championships. "I was too close on my second hurdle, and it changed everything. I chopped almost everything after that. I wasted a lot of effort trying to recoup."
King came back Friday evening and set a world 40-44 record in the flat 400 meters, running 48.61 to erase the 48.75 of France's Roger Hagues.
But the man who twice just missed going to the Olympics in the 400 hurdles was frustrated by his failure to go faster in his specialty. Two weeks ago, King, 40, broke the previous 40-44 record world record of 54.01 with a 53.88. It was evident he was looking to go much lower than 53 Friday.
"Fifty-two should have been there today; I just didn't take it," he said. "I was thinking too much about the record instead of just running through. I think 51 was possible. I can run a 48 (second) 400 meters, and you're supposed to add three seconds for the hurdles. So 51 can definitely be reached."
Who does this guy think he is, Edwin Moses?
Well, for a while there, King felt as if he was at least good enough to beat Moses.
"I came close twice," King said. "You had to surprise Edwin. Edwin was the money-maker, we figured if you beat Edwin, you'd be in the money too."
King ran a modest 51.44 in the intermediate hurdles while at San Diego State in 1971 but by 1975 was in his prime, winning the event at the Pam Am Games. He was the ranked No. 3 in the world heading into the 1976 Olympic Trials, but two weeks beforehand pulled a muscle in his leg. He went on to finish a disappointing sixth in the final.
In 1980, King and Andre Phillips were running a comfortable second and third behind Moses, but misfortune struck on the last hurdle.
"Phillips hit his hurdle and rolled off into my lane," King said. "I never recovered, and two guys passed us. We both had the team made, and he screwed it up."
Then came the 1983 Pan Am Games in Caracas, Venezuela, when King became disillusioned with track. King said drugs were everywhere.
"It shocked me," he said. "I couldn't believe so many people I knew were on drugs. I was basically running at a handicap. That was really the final blow."
That actually came in 1984, when King was knocked out of the Olympic Trials in the preliminaries.
"After '80, I just figured, it's not meant to be," King said.
Did King every consider using performance enhancing drugs?
"The money in Europe got real good," he said. "A lot of guys wanted to get that edge, and they had to turn to drugs. I thought about (taking drugs) in Caracas, but I was too old for it. I didn't know how it would change my body."
These days, King's body seems to be unchanged. In fact, just a year after '84 Olympic Trials, he was breaking the Masters world record in the 35-39 age category with a 46.3 in the flat 400 at age 36.
"That record will stand for a while," King said with a bit of smugness.
Although he was somewhat hesitant at first to continue his track career, King is now setting his sights on every record he can reach.
"I want the 45 (age group) record, too," he said.
King says that with his new training techniques, no record is safe.
"If knew then what I know now, I could think I could have done a lot more," he said. "My workouts are completely different now. I also know my body a lot better now. You learn how to back off and get through the pain barriers."
How long will he continue to fight through them?
"As long as I can run," said King, who is a cook at the San Diego Princess Hotel and a part-time assistant track coach at San Diego City College. "I like it. It's a clean sport. It's not a business. Everybody is running on their ability here."