Two-time world champion, Perdita Felicien, may disagree with her long-time manager, Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah, who believes she never recovered emotionally from the tumble at the first hurdle in the 2004 Olympic Games final in Athens.
“There is no doubt in my mind that that fall spooked her and she has emotionally not overcome fear since that fall,” Nehemiah told Share while on a brief visit to Toronto recently.
With American Gail Devers out with injury, Felicien was the overwhelming favourite to clinch the gold medal in the 100-metre hurdles. She comfortably qualified in two rounds leading up to the final and appeared set to break her Canadian record of 12.46 secs.
To the utter dismay of Canadians with high expectations of a gold medal, Felicien clipped the first hurdle.
Nehemiah, who celebrates his 54th birthday on March 24, said Felicien was utterly devastated by the outcome.
“I remember the humiliation and how she felt as if she was carrying the weight of her country,” said Nehemiah, who had a four-year stint as a wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers and was a member of the 1984 Super Bowl championship team. “The next day when we had to go to the International Broadcasting Centre for interviews, she just did not want to go to face people. When we walked into the centre, the Canadian delegation gave her a standing ovation and she ‘teared’ up. I told her they still loved her and that what had happened the previous day was unfortunate.
“I also mentioned to her that if she allowed that one race to define her, I would be sorely disappointed in her. I told Perdita she is a great athlete and ambassador for Canada and she could not have fallen and still lost the race. It’s all about how you handle adversity.”
A two-time Jim Thorpe Award winner for excellence in two or more sports, Nehemiah said multiple injuries over the years have taken a heavy toll on the 32-year-old hurdler, who won gold medals at the 2003 and 2004 world outdoor and indoor championships, respectively.
“I can relate to that because it led to my retirement,” said Nehemiah, the first athlete to run the 110-metre hurdles in under 13 secs. and the world’s number one ranked high hurdler for four straight years. Constant injuries chip away at your emotional psyche, confidence and motivation.”
Nehemiah, who has managed Felicien for the past decade, met with the athlete over lunch at a downtown hotel last month to discuss her plans for this season. She has her sights set on competing outdoors this year and qualifying for the world championships in Moscow in August.
After another injury-plagued season and the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, Felicien considered quitting the sport.
“She told me she thought that might be it,” said Nehemiah. “Of course, when I hear that, I don’t say anything. My job is to listen. I told her to take some time off and let me know how she feels. In the fall, she was surprised by how her body was responding and she was feeling healthy again for the first time in a long while.
“Perdita does know she’s in a highly-contested event and if she’s going to compete, she has to be world-class to do that. She can’t live off her name because everybody is running fast. She’s going to have to prove, not only to herself, but to the rest of the world through her performances that she’s ready to compete. She understands that and she can’t fool herself by thinking she can just walk out there. Even in her own country, she has competition now and that’s a good thing.”
Nehemiah said he has enjoyed managing Felicien in the last 10 years.
“She’s extremely frugal and she lives modestly,” he said. “She probably has put aside about 75 per cent of the money she made, which is a great story.”
The Canadian hurdler, along with Grenadian 400-metre Olympic gold medallist, Kirani James and American sprinter, Justin Gatlin, are among eight athletes in Nehemiah’s fold. He’s the chief executive officer of Athletics Promotion Ltd., a professional athlete’s management, marketing and consulting company he launched a few years ago after serving as director of track & field with Octagon Sports Management.
The 100-metre gold medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Gatlin served a four-year suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. The ban erased his then world record time 9.77 secs.
Gatlin made his return to the track in August 2010 and was a bronze medallist in last year’s London Olympics 100-metre final with a personal best time 9.79 secs.
Nehemiah, who set his first world record (13.16 secs.) in 1979 as a student at the University of Maryland and lowered it to 13 secs. flat three weeks later, has remained loyal to Gatlin despite the athlete’s indiscretion. Nehemiah was Gatlin’s agent before the ban.
“I don’t condone anything wrong that they do,” said Nehemiah. “Justin had advanced warning from me that you are judged by the company you keep and therefore I was not keen on his coach. I couldn’t prove anything. Justin has dealt with the repercussions of his actions. Even though it’s a great redemption story, he lost four valuable years by making an improper decision through association. I make sure everyone knows where my athletes are so they can be tested.”
The other Canadians in Nehemiah’s camp are 1,500-metre runner, Kate Van Buskirk and two-time Canadian champion, Jenna Martin, who placed seventh in the 400-metre semi-final race at the London Olympics.
BY RON FANFAIR