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PROFILES

Thirty-Three-Year-Old Olympic Hurdler Roger Kingdom
Jumps the Hurdles Toward His Third Gold Medal.

A KINGDOM OF GOLD
WRITTEN BY VALERIE R. GREGG


It's a good day to start fresh. A dome of blue sky arches up and over Pitt Stadium, shutting out the sound and fury of another Oakland rush hour.

Track star Roger Kingdom, who was a student and athlete at Pitt in the early '80s, emerges from the dark portal leading from the football locker rooms. He stands there alone for a minute, snaps on a 30-pound weight vest, and takes a deep breath. It's been only six weeks since the World Championship 110-meter hurdle race, but he can't rest any longer. Fourth in the world isn't good enough for a man who's won two gold medals and held a world record. And, at 33, time's running out.

Kingdom's daughter, a five-year-old whirl of bouncing braids and bright-eyed chatter, is at his side today. She's got her running shoes on, too.

"Stay down here by me," calls Kingdom when she heads for the football team's hitting dummy. "That thing could knock you flat."

Kingdom jogs alone around the perimeter, watching his daughter out of the corner of his eye. His stride is heavy, weighted down by the vest, but his back is straight, his carriage erect. Definitely not just another guy out to get a little exercise.

Two laps, and he stops to gingerly stretch out his hamstrings. Then he's off for 110-meter strides down the length of the football field. His legs stretch out, not quite into a sprint, but he's up on his toes. The extra weight pulls him low to the ground, beads of sweat popping out on his temples, muscles wrapping around his long legs like the cords of a strong rope. He may look a little stiff today, but on race day he'll look phenomenal.

Videotapes of his '84 and '88 gold medal performances and 1989 world record tell the story: Eight men crouch over in the starting blocks, fingers splayed out behind the white line, muscles taut and quivering. A piercing gunshot begins a violent attack on 10 hurdles and the outer limits of human speed.

Kingdom's race looks like a single fluid movement. He glides over waist-high hurdles and powers ahead with the ease of an Olympic gymnast completing a perfect tumbling run.

Speed, power, and technical precision--only a mind of steel can pull all these together for an endeavor that's over before the eye can imprint it on the brain.

And Kingdom, a man of his own mind, has made some unconventional choices. He gave up Pitt football and NFL dreams in 1984 to train for the Olympic track team. He makes a living by running races all summer and by endorsing athletic products and businesses. He lives in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, while other world-class sprinters prefer balmy climates like southern California or Florida. Self-coached, he trains alone or with any stray friends, acquaintances, or relatives who want to come along.

Back at the track, Kingdom rests his foot on a bench, pokes at his scarred-up knee, and grimaces. It's a little swollen, but he'll finish his workout with a set of steps.

"C'mon, gramps," shouts a friend when Kingdom treks heavily up the bowl of Pitt Stadium, favoring his bad knee. Kingdom raises an eyebrow at him. Watch out. This old man--US national champion last season and a good bet for a third gold medal this summer--has challenged people to spontaneous grudge matches over less. One-hundred meters across a parking lot. No mystery who's going to win.

Kingdom stops on his way down to tie his daughter's shoe. His muscular jaw dimples when he smiles down at her, a small foot resting on his knee.

"My new training partner," he announces, and off they go, side by side, up one last set of steps.


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