Hammond's Sharps leaving others behind Hurdler striving for 55-meter title

February 07, 1993|By Michael Richman | Michael Richman,Staff Writer

Last month, in the 55-meter indoor track hurdles at the National Guard Invitational, Reggie Peyton bolted out of the blocks ahead of Hammond's Robert Sharps.

Peyton crossed the initial hurdle in the lead. But Sharps remained composed, gathered steam, moved into the lead by the fourth of five hurdles, and won in 7.3 seconds, eclipsing a 7.4 meet record.

Coach Peter Hughes saw Sharps' comeback as an indication that the Golden Bears' senior has become a "very confident, aggressive hurdler.

"There's a big difference going into a race believing you can beat somebody and believing you can't," Hughes said. "With Robert that was always a slight obstacle until this year. The kids he was competing against last summer -- the majority were freshmen in college -- would raise anybody's confidence."

Sharps' 7.3 time holds as the Baltimore area's best in the 55 hurdles. He doesn't appear threatened by his closest competitors, Milford Mill's Andre Eure and Woodlawn's Vincent Montoute (tied at 7.8) and Severna Park's Mark Latchaw (7.9).

A winner in five of six 55 hurdle races this season, Sharps has a goal of capturing the state championship at the Baltimore Armory Feb. 24. That achievement eluded him last year, when he trailed early and finished third. But the setback, along with a photo-finish loss to national talent Darias Pemberton at the Seton Hall Invitational in December, serve as motivators.

"I take losing differently," Sharps said. "When I lose, it makes me move on, go forward. It's knowing that I'm not invincible and I can be beat. I'm glad I didn't come out on top because you tend to give up and not work anymore."

But it isn't often that Sharps finishes second. He started passing foes as a freshman, qualifying for county and regional semifinals (55 hurdles) and the state tournament (110 outdoor hurdles). The next year, he won the 110 and 300 (outdoor) hurdles in counties and regionals.

Early on, Sharps' hurdling technique was somewhat shoddy, Hughes said. Instead of stepping over the 39-inch obstacle in stride, he would jump it.

"Most young hurdlers, until they conquer the fear of surpassing hurdles, jump so high for the fear of hitting it," Hughes said. "That's what happened to Robert."

Still, Sharps' success remained constant. As a junior, he became state outdoor champion in the 110 and second in the 300. Indoor in the 55, he placed first in the county, second in regionals and third in the state.

"My junior year is when I thought I could excel. I thought I could be one of the best," Sharps said. "It was disappointing getting third [in the 55] because I stumbled out of the blocks. It made me want more."

Last summer, Sharps' stint on the Glenarden Track Club molded him into an even better hurdler. Competing against marquee talent, he became aware that one misfortune on the track could cost the race. In other words, there's no recovery time.

"He knew coming into this year that to get into college on a track scholarship, he had to perform under pressure," said teammate Kisha Jett, a junior who is one of the state's best sprinters.

"Two years ago, he knew that he was going to be real good. Each year, he's gotten a lot better and now, the puzzle is finally fitting together."

After the state meet, Sharps will focus on the national indoor championships at Syracuse University (March 12-14).

Already, Sharps has been offered three Division I scholarships -- Seton Hall, Mount St. Mary's and West Virginia. Hughes said his star hurdler is waiting for Florida and Tennessee, the cream of the track and field crop, to call.

At the nationals, Sharps again will confront Pemberton in the 55 hurdles. In national competition last year, Pemberton was pentathlon champion and placed eighth in the 55. The result and ensuing controversy from the last Sharps-Pemberton duel left Sharps somewhat bitter.

"All the pickers and the judges [initially] picked me to win. . . . they gave me a 7.3 and him a 7.4," Sharps said. "But then in the photo finish, they went back and said that the picture said differently. But we never saw the picture. I don't know, something was fishy."

For Sharps, losses in important races make him more ambitious to be the best.

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