Monday, July 28, 2008

Hurdler doesn't sweat it

Published Monday July 28, 2008

Booker Nunley was strolling to the water cooler with a smile wider than his 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame.His fan club of Track Eastern Carolina teammates, stationed near the finish line in the northwest corner of Burke Stadium, was still showering him with praise.Still walking, Nunley turned to his fan base, removed his sunglasses with his right hand, then used his left hand to ceremoniously wipe imaginary sweat off his forehead.The 18-year-old had earned every clap and cheer after setting a meet record of 13.41 seconds in winning the Young Men's (ages 17 and 18) National Junior Olympics 110-meter high hurdles. The mark also will be considered for listing as the national youth record because the current mark of 13.4 was a hand-held time run in 1978 before electronic timing was used.But Nunley had hardly perspired in the less than 14 seconds it took him to get from his starting blocks to the finish line despite temperatures in the high 80s and a cloudless sky.His fellow hurdlers didn't provide much opposition for the South Carolina recruit, who's only run the hurdles for two years. Since February, Nunley has been competing against collegiate athletes after being declared ineligible from North Carolina high school competition."If I would have known, I would have taken the right amount of courses," Nunley said. "I mean, I'm a smart kid. I've taken advanced classes ever since high school."It was just two days before the North Carolina high school indoor championships in February when Booker's mother, Jacqueline, received word that Booker couldn't compete in the spring season of high school track and field."It was kind of devastating," she said Sunday from their North Carolina home.In the fall, Booker dropped two of his four high school classes. Only needing English to graduate, he thought everything was fine.But athletes have to pass at least three classes to be eligible the following semester, according to North Carolina High School Athletic Association rules.Nunley, who has a GPA of 3.5, said he had no clue about the rule, and his counselor, who was also his high school track coach, also hadn't informed him of the regulation.Just like that, his high school track career was over.But his hurdling career was about to hit new strides.Local universities, such as Wake Forest, North Carolina State and South Carolina, where he'll run both the 110 and 400 hurdles next year, let him compete in meets unattached."I actually ran a lot more than the school season would have allowed me to," he said. "I probably ran more than any hurdler this year."Nunley got used to competing in big meets every few weeks."Right now there's nobody around him that affects anything about his psyche," Track Eastern Carolina coach Dave Simpson said.He also had more time to focus on his technique rather than try to win high school contests, and that helped him become a stronger hurdler.At the collegiate level, the hurdles go up to 42 inches, three inches higher than high school hurdles. The 39-inch hurdles had become easy for Nunley, but the 42-inchers presented a challenge."Forty-twos actually helped me become a better hurdler," Nunley said. "You had to get stronger. You had to do things a different way. You had to be technically sound."Nunley's dedication was on display Sunday for the finals crowd at Burke Stadium."That's the best high school race I've ever seen," Simpson said.But, Nunley said, Sunday's record-breaking time wasn't even his best."Actually, I probably could have gone a lot faster," Nunley said. "I haven't really been practicing lately."About three weeks ago, before he won silver at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Poland with a time of 13.41, he was bothered by some knee tendinitis.Since he returned from Poland, Nunley had only practiced hurdles a couple times before the Junior Olympics in Omaha.With his win Sunday, Nunley has replaced the North Carolina state championship he likely would have won this past spring with an even more prestigious prize. Simpson teased him about it after the race."I guess you'll trade in a state championship for this championship anytime, won't you?" • Contact the writer: 444-1138,

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