If you missed earlier articles by or about Jon, see:
Jon Hendershott, short bio by Paul O'Shea
Ashton Eaton and Harry Marra, An Appreciation by Jon Hendershott
I fully admit that the idea for me to generate these recollections came after reading the Editor’s column in T&FN authored by colleague Garry Hill. I trust he won’t mind if I filch the concept—after all, we all have our own unique memories of the great moments we have been privileged to witness.
But while I tried to bravely (quote-unquote) settle on just one “most” performance in each event, I also admit that I wimped out in certain (alright, many) cases and chose more than one. Also, there are a few instances where thinking and remembering certain events triggered memories not necessarily of a “super” sort.
So, Sherman, fire up the Way-Back Machine. I begin with the men’s sprints & hurdles (the latter being my old events in my non-stellar competitive days).
Right out of the blocks, so to speak, I can’t settle on just one most-memorable century performance. That’s because two memories are ultra-vivid for me.
The first comes from the initial USA national meet I witnessed, at the 1968 AAU Championships in Sacramento. My parents had driven to northern California from Seattle so that my dad Bob, then an assistant track coach at Washington, and I could attend the AAU. My folks had driven to Berkeley earlier that June for the NCAA Championships and returned just two weeks later for the AAU.
What a night of 100-meter sprinting it turned out to be at Hughes Stadium. The crushed brick and clay surface was groomed and ultra-fast—and the record rolls took a beating. Future Olympic century champion Jim Hines got things off to a roaring start when he won heat 1 in 9.8 (wind +2.8mps), a full 0.2 off the accepted World Record of 10.0 (hand timing in those days).
Three heats later, both American Charlie Greene and France’s Roger Bambuck tied the 10-flat record. Then in the semi-finals (all races held on the same night, June 20), Hines and Ronnie Ray Smith sped 9.9 in the first race (wind +0.8mps) to lower the official record. Greene then matched the clocking to take the final (wind +0.9mps).
In all, the previous 10.0 WR was equaled or bettered a total of 10 times in that one evening of unparalleled sprinting. The occasion was later dubbed “The Night of Speed”—rightfully so.
Jim Hines night of speed
And 35 years later at the 2004 Olympic Trials in Sacramento, organizer Steve Simmons brought together many of the stars of that epic final for a Night of Speed Reunion. Hines, Greene, Bambuck, Lennox Miller, Mel Pender and Larry Questad all shared their memories of that spectacular night.
And the ever-voluble Greene added, “We raced because it was important to ourselves. We had style. We were mentally tough. We were not afraid of the challenge. We were not afraid. If you are afraid to lose you will never be a good sprinter.
“We had T-A-L-E-N-T. If you don’t have talent you can’t be a sprinter. If you are not fast, just go and talk to your parents.”
|Ronnie Ray Smith|
Usain Bolt 9.58
“I didn’t think I could run a tenth [of a second] faster than my World Record,” Bolt claimed afterwards. “But for me, anything is possible.”
No one who saw Bolt decimate the Berlin field would argue that he was at the height of his powers—with an even-more stunning sprint yet to come.
For the half-lap dash, I will again cop to youthful memory. Like many other of life’s firsts—first love, first kiss, to name two—for a track fan like me (lifelong, in other words), meeting one’s first Olympic champion is always ultra-special.
For me, that moment came in late June of 1961 in Everett, Washington. As a 15-year-old hyper-fan, my dad and a friend had ventured north of Seattle to the Pacific Northwest AAU title meet, precisely because the 220 was going to feature none other than 1960 Olympic 400 champion Otis Davis.
In the waning twilight in Everett, Davis easily won the district AAU 220. I believe his time was in the mid-21s but I am relying for that stat on my memory (also waning).
After the race, my friend Fletcher and I ventured onto the infield and approached Davis, who was sitting on the grass and pulling on his warmup flats. We congratulated him, he said thanks and we were thrilled to speak with the Olympic champion, however briefly.
Flash forward 55 (really) years to the summer of 2016. I was a guest at a banquet of many Olympians attending the Olympic Trials in Eugene. Included among the plethora of athletes was, yes, Otis Davis. Even at age 84, Davis still was trim and erect. He looked like he could almost challenge some of the younger sprint stars in attendance.
After many of the younger Olympians had paid their respects to Davis, I approached him as he stood on a patio overlooking beautiful vineyards in the hills west of Eugene. I introduced myself and briefly told him of the 1961 race in Everett and having shook his hand those many years ago.
Then Bolt proceeded to eviscerate the field, winning by a stunning 0.62 as the wind read a negative 0.3mps. The trackside quick-time clock stopped at a mind-numbing 19.20—and everyone proceeded to go certifiably crazy.
Usain Bolt 200 M 19.19
I usually try to avoid using exclamation points in my writing. But this time, I’m sorry, but it is impossible to not use them. Bolt’s performance simply defied description—and belief. As amazing as Michael Johnson’s 19.32 had been to cap his 200-400 double at the ’96 Atlanta Olympics, and even Bolt’s 19.30 in Beijing, his 19.19 simply boggled the mind. I am just so thankful I got to see it in person—and I still get chills remembering it more than seven years later.
The closest any challenger had come to that record was the 43.39 by Michael Johnson to win the ’95 global title in Gotebörg, Sweden. Still, there was a feeling among world fans that Michael was just marking time until he really put together a 400 for the ages and took down the record. Michael Johnson 43.39
That time came on the hot, humid evening of August 26 in central Spain. MJ was aiming for his fourth consecutive Worlds 400 title and there never was any doubt that he would get it.
“When you have been chasing something for so long, it’s a relief to finally get it,” Johnson said. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”
Okay, I should have titled all these ramblings, “My top TWO memories per event,” since I have had trouble choosing just one. But I have two “strongest” memories from my old event, the high hurdles.
Fairview HS, Dayton, OH
Outstanding. This is like having Joe DiMaggio coming to play on your baseball team.