Daniel Roberts is one of the fastest men to ever run for Kentucky’s track program. The junior hurdler from Hampton, Ga., was recently named Southeastern Conference Runner of the Year.
This week, he has a chance to break one of college track and field’s longest-standing records.
Roberts’ time of 13.07 seconds is the second-best all-time in the NCAA 110-meter hurdles. It trails only the 13.0 run by Renaldo Nehemiah of Maryland in 1979 which, at the time, was also a world record. Nehemiah went on to play wide receiver in the National Football League and to compete on the track professionally.
“It’d be nice,” Roberts said of having a chance to break the record at this week’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas. “It’s a 40-year-old record that everybody’s been trying to get like every year.”
Roberts, who was also named to the SEC’s Community Service Team, isn’t the only one chasing history in Austin. Grant Holloway of Florida, Roberts’ main rival in most races this season, will also be attempting to break Nehemiah’s record.
Roberts said that he thought it would take a sub-13 second race to win the championship. A performance like that would shatter the NCAA record, test Nehemiah’s best time ever (12.93) and challenge the current world record of 12.80 set by the United States’ Aries Merritt in 2012.
“I think it will,” Roberts said. “You never know but hopefully there’s good weather, not too much wind. I definitely think it will.”
Roberts also spoke of Florida’s Holloway and how having such a close competitor motivated him to go after the record.
“Just to know that me and Grant are really that close,” Roberts said last week. “And we’re here at the same time so it’s better for us to push each other to get there so I definitely think (the NCAA record) might be gone after next week.”
UK’s track coach, Lonnie Greene, said he fully expects the record to fall in Austin.
“That’s exponential,” Greene said. “That’s a record that’s been around forever, 13 flat, both he or Grant, I believe personally if they execute the way I know they can execute, we will see a sub-13 race, that’s just me.”
Greene also said that having a UK athlete break Nehemiah’s record would be a huge moment for both the school and the sport.
“That would catapult the program,” Greene said. “It’ll catapult the NCAA. It’ll catapult the hurdles, the 110 hurdles as an event, you know, going forward. What’s going to happen now, two of the best hurdlers in the world are coming from the collegiate ranks.”
As far as the effect a record could have on the program, Greene was thinking ahead to recruiting.
“We (would) have more young people who want to come to the University of Kentucky and be a part of what we’re doing here,” Greene said. “It’s scary. It’s scary because there’s only so much scholarship money to go around and you’re asking some of the best kids in the country to say ‘if you come, you gotta walk on,’ and that’s a hard nut to chew.”
Nehemiah was complimentary of both Roberts and Holloway, saying that their rivalry is a good thing for the 110 hurdles. He compared it to his own rivalry with Greg Foster of UCLA.
“I think, quite frankly, that they’re the two best hurdlers, period,” Nehemiah said. “In the United States, pro or otherwise.”
He also cautioned the two against chasing the record so much that they lose sight of what’s important.
“It would behoove both of them just to compete against each other,” Nehemiah said. “To bring out the best in each other, and that’s when a record, or the record, will be broken, but if they’re lining up assuming that they’re going to break the record, that could be their Achilles’ heel, because it becomes more of the focus than the actual race itself.”
Nehemiah also said that he feels it’s time for the record to be broken.
“Forty years is quite a long time for a record to not be broken,” Nehemiah said. “I would be really proud to shake the hand of whoever would do it.”
UK is not the first program where Roberts has made a difference. His high school coach, Jonathan Perry at Hampton High School in Georgia, said that he wasn’t surprised by Roberts’ success after seeing him have a legendary junior year at Hampton.
That year, 2015, Roberts won Class 4A state titles in the 110 and 300 hurdles and the triple jump. The previous football season, Roberts had torn his ACL playing football.
“That’s stuff that’s mythic, that’s like Bo Jackson-type stuff,” Perry said.
The coach said that the town of Hampton and the high school have followed Roberts’ career closely.
“Coming from a little small town where this high school is in Hampton, Georgia, it’s a huge deal,” Perry said. “We follow that like the Beatles coming to America. I can’t tell you what it does to the entire school to see that, the kids knowing that he came from here. He walked these very same halls.”
Perry said that he expects Roberts to break the record in Austin, citing the work ethic that he displayed during his time at Hampton.
“Daniel used to always say, ‘Tokyo 2020,’” Perry said, referring to the next Summer Olympics. “But he’s such a humble kid and a hard-working kid.”
How to watch
Kentucky’s Daniel Roberts competes in the 110-meter hurdles at Austin, Texas, this week in pursuit of one of the NCAA’s longest-standing records. Here’s when you can watch him:
Wednesday: Semifinals, 6:02 p.m. EDT (ESPN2)
Friday: Finals, 9:12 p.m. EDT (ESPN)