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Olympics, Arizona Cardinals’ Roger Kingdom forever linked

Roger Kingdom looks on at the Arizona Cardinals' practice on Aug. 4, 2016. (Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Never. Not after his win in 1984, or his repeat performance in 1988.

Never has Roger Kingdom, a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and former world and American record holder in the 110-meter hurdles, thrown out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game.

That changes Friday, when Kingdom receives the honor ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks game.

“It’s going to be very exciting,” he said.

Kingdom is entering his third season with the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. He joined the Cardinals following a decade’s worth of work at California University of Pennsylvania, a Division II school, where he ran both the track & field and cross country programs.

This is a busy time for Kingdom. Not only is it training camp, and not only is it his responsibility to get the Cardinals in shape for 2016, but it’s an Olympic year. That always brings back special memories.

“Because you know the pressure that it takes to get there,” he said. “You know what the athletes are dealing with, what they’re going to face when they actually get to the Olympic Games. But for me, I get the chills every time that one of the players pulls up the video and start talking about it. I see it, and I’m like, ‘wow, I remember what it was like, OK?!’ But like I said, that’s magnified when an Olympic year comes around because you feel that patriotism and everything else, and you actually at that point wish that you can go and represent your country again.”

It’s been 32 years since Kingdom first won gold in Los Angeles. Four years later in Seoul, he successfully defended his title, becoming the first man to break the 13-second barrier in an Olympic final with a time of 12.98, a record that stood until 1996.

Kingdom said that the more time has passed, the more he appreciates what he accomplished.

Not everyone is able to say they stood atop the medal stand while their national anthem played.

“Not just myself, but the majority of the athletes, when their career is over with, is when they really to start to value and appreciate their accomplishments because they see the magnitude of it. When you’re in the middle of it, your focus is so on being the best that you can be and making sure that you leave your mark in history that you don’t take time to relish in your accomplishments,” said Kingdom, who set a world record of 12.92 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1989, a mark that would last for 13 years.

“For me to look back at the Olympic medals now and say that myself and the late Lee Calhoun (1956, 1960)” are the only two who have successfully defended the 110m hurdle title, “it’s amazing, it’s amazing. I get chills every time I watch the race.”

At the Rio games, the 110-meter hurdles are scheduled for Aug. 15 with the semifinals and finals run on a day later.

When he was hired by the Cardinals in 2014, Kingdom reunited with an old friend: football.

It was football that earned Kingdom a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. He played two seasons, but it was on the school’s track team where Kingdom excelled, winning the NCAA outdoor national championship in the 110-meter hurdles in 1983 and the NCAA indoor national championship in the 55-meter hurdles in 1984.

“Well, anytime you don’t close the door on something you’re going to always wonder ‘what if’ because you leave the door open for that scrutiny,” he said when asked about his decision to leave football behind to focus solely on track.

“I’m just very blessed to have this opportunity to be out here (with the Cardinals). A lot of the times I look at the some of the accomplishments that a lot of the athletes have and I say that, ‘you know what, maybe I could’ve done that.’ But then the minute you think maybe I could’ve done that, then you look at the flipside of that coin, ‘well, I wouldn’t have done that’. So, I’m very happy for what I already have accomplished. And those things that I didn’t, you let those memories go and you move on and you try to teach the younger kids how to get there.”

On Friday at Chase Field, Kingdom, who turns 54 this month, will join seven other Olympic medalists—Dwayne Evans, Misty Hyman, Trina Jackson, Zeke Jones, Olga Korbut, Dan Majerle and Augie Ojeda—for the D-backs’ “Pass the Torch Night” to celebrate this year’s summer games.

Told American gymnast Simone Biles did a front flip before throwing out the first pitch before a Houston Astros game recently, Kingdom’s eyes lit up.

“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” he said.

Kingdom, though, promised there would be no hurdling prior to his throw.

“That would add a twist, go over the hurdle and then throw the ball. But, nah, we won’t have to take the prop out there,” he said. “I guess I’m going to have to be the old-school, traditional guy and just try to make sure that I get it into the glove.”

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