It has been 40 years since Renaldo Nehemiah created one of the most indelible memories in the history of the Penn Relays with his history-making 44.3-second anchor leg for Maryland, coming back from 25 meters down to win the 4x400-meter relay at Franklin Field.
He did a lot in track and field after that day, particularly in the 110-meter hurdles, where in 1981, he became the first athlete to break 13 seconds in the race. He also played three years in the NFL. Those, however, are not the only accomplishments for which he is recognized.
“So many people that I don’t even know see me on the streets and say, ‘I was there in ’79, the greatest performance I’ve ever seen,'” Nehemiah said Thursday at a press availability kicking off next week’s start of the 125th carnival.
“People sometimes talk more about this performance than they talk about me being the first man under 13 [in the hurdles]. So go figure.”
Nehemiah, 60, who will return to Penn next week to serve as the honorary carnival referee, first ran at Franklin Field or Scotch Plains-Fanwood (N.J.) High School. He anchored the shuttle hurdle and 4x200 relays in addition to the 4x400 in 1979.
He said he always wanted to run at the carnival.
“This was one of those make-or-break environments,” he said. “I always tell everybody, ‘This is where you’re either made or not made.’ Because off of adrenaline, off of nostalgia and history, you’ve got to put up or shut up. And you want to be able to put up. I was just fortunate. The crowds are into every race and it adds extra incentive for you to perform.”
As for what he would say to a young runner competing at Penn, he said, “I’d tell them, ‘It’s everything if you want to ever be anything.’
“If they asked me what I meant, I’d tell them, ‘If you’re going to have a future, we need to see it here.’ If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere in the world.”
Also present at Thursday’s function was former Oregon All-American Raevyn Rogers, a five-time NCAA champion (three outdoor, two indoor) in the 800 meters, who said she will run in the USA vs. the World competition on April 27. Rogers said she and the Ducks always looked forward to coming east to Penn.
“If we’re going to come all the way here, a six-hour flight, then we’re going to make it worth it,” she said. “It was always fun. When we’d get the reactions we did from high schoolers and just other people on the East Coast being happy to finally see us in person, it was a different type of experience. I wouldn’t say we’re celebrities but that’s what it felt like because we were coming so far.”
Rogers, who moved to Philadelphia last August to train, was a part of two record-setting teams at the 2017 Penn Relays in the sprint medley and 4x400. She turned pro after the season, giving up her senior year of eligibility.