Class of 1977
To dig up the old saying, the third time was the charm for history-chasing prep hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah on May 30, 1977. It was the Eastern States Championships in Queens, N.Y. and the Scotch Plains-Fanwood HS (NJ) senior was the co-holder of the national record for the 120-yard hurdles at 13.2 with three others. He and his coach, Jean Poquette, knew he could break it again and possibly get under 13 seconds. In the prelims, he blasted a 13.0 – but the track was then measured and found to be 3 inches short. In the semifinal, he clocked 13.1 over the correct distance – but it was wind-aided.
At last in the final, he blazed through the line with two of the three watches catching him at 12.9 seconds. Mission accomplished! The high hurdles event has since switched to the nearly-identical 110-meter distance, but no other prep to this day has ever run sub-13 – though Wayne Davis II established the “official” 110H record in 2009 at 13.08.
Nehemiah, who earned the famed nickname “Skeets” as a child, had excellent speed entering high school (eventually running 9.4 100y, 20.9 220y). But he wanted a bigger challenge. Watching the likes of Olympic gold medalist Rod Milburn, Nehemiah found the hurdles most “engaging.” He dove into it, but injuries slowed his progress through this 10th and early 11th-grade years. In spring of ’76, though, he started to reach his potential. He won state in 13.7 and, having trained for the international 42” hurdles, clocked 14.2 for 5th at AAU Juniors.
By the winter of his senior year, Nehemiah was the nation’s best prep hurdler. He set national 60y hurdle records of 6.9 (39”) and 7.2 (42”) indoors, then continued outdoors to the 12.9 peak in May – along with a record 35.8 in the 330y hurdles. Then at the International Prep Invite, he swept those events in 13.2 and 35.8 (again), then shredded another record with a 13.5 AAU Junior victory over the 42s. That mark would stand 27 years. The unbeaten campaign earned Nehemiah the Track and Field News HS Athlete of the Year award.
Over the next four years, Nehemiah became the world’s top 110m hurdler, punctuated by his historic 12.93 world record at the 1981 Zurich Weltklasse. But just as memorable for many fans was “Skeets” 1979 Penn Relays performances, as he anchored U. of Maryland to epic shuttle hurdle, 4×200 and 4×400 victories. Seeking a new challenge in 1982, Nehemiah signed with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers – earning a Super Bowl ring with the ’84 team before returning to the track for several years. He has worked in sports management for many years since and is currently the president of Athletics Promotions LTD.
Did You Know?
Nehiamiah’s 13.5 in the 42″ hurdles stood as a record for 27 years.