Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Saturday, February 25, 2017

V 7 N. 13 Charlie Fonville U. of Michigan WR Shot Put

Do you remember who held the Shot Put world record before Jim Fuchs?   Hell, do you remember Jim Fuchs?  My guess is only Pete Brown in Plano, TX ever saw Jim Fuchs throw and is still alive to tell it.  But this story is about another man who preceded Mr. Fuchs.  Charlie Fonville was a walk on at Michigan who graduated from Ann Arbor as a lawyer and  a world record holder.   Thanks to Sheppard Miers, of Tulsa, one of my U. of Oklahoma teammates for bringing this story to our attention.  Sheppard was an excellent shot putter in his day and threw for many  years in Masters competition.  In fact he may still be throwing.  Thanks too to Wikipedia for doing the legwork on this article.  George

Charlie Fonville

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Charlie Fonville
Charlie Fonville
Personal information
Full nameCharles Edward Fonville
BornApril 27, 1927
Birmingham, Alabama
DiedJuly 13, 1994 (aged 67)
Detroit, Michigan
OccupationAthlete, Attorney
Charles Edward "Charlie" Fonville (April 27, 1927 – July 13, 1994) was an American track and field athlete who set a world record in the shot put. In 1945, he had been named the Michigan High School Track & Field Athlete of the Year. He won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) shot put championship in 1947 and 1948. Competing for the University of Michigan at the Kansas Relays in April 1948, Fonville broke a 14-year-old world record, throwing the shot a foot further than the record.
Fonville was considered the favorite for the 1948 Olympic gold medal but a back injury prevented him from qualifying for the Games. After undergoing back surgery in November 1948, Fonville sat out the 1949 season, but came back in 1950 to win his third Big Ten Conference shot put championship. Fonville later became a lawyer and practiced law in Detroit, Michigan for 40 years. He was inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor in 1979, as part of the second class of inductees.


Early years[edit]

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved with his family to Decatur, Illinois at age 11. Prior to his senior year in high school, his family moved to Detroit. In 1945, following Fonville's lone track season at Detroit's Miller High School, he was named Michigan High School Track & Field Athlete of the Year for his first-place performance at the Detroit City League Meet. Fonville's winning effort in the shot put was five feet better than that of the state champion.   Later that summer, Charlie Fonville and Jessie Nimmons competed in the Detroit YMCA Track Championship as a two-man team for the St. Antoine YMCA; Fonville won the 100m200mhigh jump, and shot put. Fonville and Nimmons won the 440 yard relay, with each of them running 220 yard legs. They were later disqualified for not having four runners. They finished in second place at the meet; their disqualification in the 440 preventing them from winning.
In 1945, Fonville enrolled at the University of Michigan without a scholarship and paid his way through college with summer jobs and working in a sorority dining room.

Big Ten shot put record in 1947

Fonville won the 1947 Big Ten indoor shot put championship.  Early in the subsequent 1947 outdoor track season, Fonville was throwing over 53 feet (16 m) and was poised to break William Watson's Big Ten Conference record.    At a meet in early May 1947, he broke Watson's Ferry Field record with a throw of 53 feet 10.5 inches (16.421 m).   At the Big Ten outdoor track and field meet in late May 1947 in Evanston, Illinois, Fonville broke the Big Ten shot put record in the qualifying rounds. Henry J. McCormick, of the Wisconsin State Journal, reported that "Friday's finals were highlighted by the shot put, where Charlie Fonville set a new conference record of 53 feet 11.75 inches (16.4529 m), smashing the former mark of 52 feet 11.5 inches (16.142 m) which Bill Watson of Michigan set in 1938."    Fonville then topped his own mark in the finals of the same meet with a throw of 54 feet 1 inch (16.48 m).  The following month, Fonville continued to improve with a throw of 54 feet 10.875 inches (16.73543 m) to win the NCAA meet.

World record in 1948

Fonville won the Big Ten indoor shot put championship again in 1948.  In April 1948, Fonville broke the world record in the shot put at the Kansas Relays with a throw of 58 feet 0.375 inches (17.68793 m).  The previous mark of 57 feet 1 inch (17.40 m), set by Jack Torrance, had stood since 1934.  The United Press reported:
Two of the nation's greatest Negro athletes smashed a pair of world records Saturday [hurdler Harrison Dillard was the other] at the 23rd annual Kansas Relays to send U.S. Olympic hopes soaring. Charles Fonville, mighty Michigan shot putter, shattered the world mark in his event with a heave of 58 feet 0.25 inches (17.6848 m) ... Fonville's great toss came in the morning preliminaries. ... Fonville broke into the limelight indoors last fall and has been starring ever since. His toss Saturday was almost 6 feet (1.8 m) greater than that of his nearest competitor.
Ironically, Fonville had felt he was not ready for the Kansas Relays. A back injury had discouraged him, and there was even discussion that he might not make the trip.
Charlie Fonville, University of Michigan, 1950 Michiganensian, p. 247
Fonville noted at the time that, in his opinion, speed was more essential than beef and weight in the shot put.  Speaking about his technique, Fonville said, "You concentrate—and then you just try to explode across the circle."   His coach, Ken Doherty, described Fonville as "one of the hardest working, most studious athletes" he had ever coached.   Doherty also added that Fonville's technique distinguished him from most shot putters: "Fonville drives completely across the ring in one continuous motion. Previously, most shotputters made their initial hop and hesitated before their final drive. ... Any track coach looking at him, would recognize all the points of good form. The only difference is that he has unusual speed and quickness—and he is the greatest competitor I've ever coached."[9] One columnist described Fonville's steady improvement from his freshman year in 1946 through his junior year in 1948 and concluded: "Small as shot-putters go, Fonville is the greatest in the long history of sensational 16-pound (7.3 kg) heavers."
Fonville's son, Carl Eric Fonville, later wrote that his father was troubled by the unequal treatment given to African-American athletes during the Kansas meet at which he set the world record. Upon arriving at the Kansas Relays, Fonville and Harrison Dillard of Baldwin-Wallace College were housed at the home of a black family.[1] His son wrote: "Without unpacking they decided to take a walk to the University of Kansas campus where they found the other visiting white athletes being given campus tours and their treatment far different than their own. They both considered leaving but decided to stay and compete. Charles called Ann Arbor, Michigan to tell them that he wanted leave, he got Don Canham who told him that he was 'Sent to Kansas City to represent the University of Michigan,' the conversation was short and clear."[1] Fonville and Dillard both set new world records at the event.
In June 1948, Fonville successfully defended his NCAA championship at the NCAA meet in Minneapolis, with a throw of 54 feet 7 inches (16.64 m).

Back injury and Olympic disappointment

Even before the Kansas Relays, one writer stated: "Michigan's Charley Fonville has only to retain his present form to be a certain Olympic games winner in the shot put."   After a record-setting performance at the Purdue Relays, the United Press noted that "American Olympic stock was several points higher today."      And after he set the world record at the Kansas Relays, the United Press reported: "You can write down the names of the midwest's terrific trio—Harrison DillardFortune Gordien, and Charley Fonville—today as sure leaders of the U.S. Olympic track and field squad this summer. Out of the helter-skelter of three relay carnivals, ... these three emerged as Uncle Sam's surest hopes for glory in London."
However, Fonville had been competing with an ailing back all year. The injury worsened as the track season wore on, and in early July 1948, Fonville was forced to pull out of the National AAU track and field championships due to a "strained back." Michigan's coach, J. Kenneth Doherty, informed the meet of the injury but "did not say how severe the injury was nor if it would keep Fonville from Olympic competition."
Fonville competed in the Olympic trials in Evanston, Illinois in mid-July 1948, but he was not able to meet his own standards as a result of the injury. He finished fourth and, despite having broken the world record just three months earlier, did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.   There were some who suggested that Fonville should be named to the Olympic team despite his fourth-place finish at the trials; others argued it would be unfair to the third-place finisher to take away his spot on the team. And "there was also a suspicion that Fonville's ailing back hadn't healed and that his performance at Evanston represented the best he can do at this time."
"The competition in these trials is merciless, but it's fair. ... Still there was heart-break aplenty at Evanston. There was Fonville, the rangy University of Michigan Negro who broke the Olympic shot put standard by almost a foot and still couldn't win one of the top three places. Fonville had tossed the shot repeatedly for distances that would have earned him a berth, but—to quote his own words—'I just didn't throw it far enough this time.'"
Henry McCormick, Wisconsin State Journal
Wilbur Thompson won the gold medal in the 1948 Summer Olympics with a throw of 56 feet 2 inches (17.12 m)—almost 2.0 feet (0.61 m) shorter than Fonville's world-record distance.
Despite not making the Olympic team, he remained Michigan's most valuable track and field star, and at the end of the 1948 season he was chosen by teammates as captain for the 1949 season. However, in the fall of 1948, the severity of Fonville's injury was discovered, and it appeared he would never compete again. In October 1948, after observing Fonville for a month, specialists at the University of Michigan Hospital concluded that Fonville was suffering from a fused vertebrae.   He apparently had the ailment since birth, but had aggravated the condition throwing a 16-pound (7.3 kg) iron ball in event after event.   The Associated Press (AP) reported that the injury "has ended the Michigan star's brilliant collegiate shot-putting career."
"Learning that Charley Fonville, Michigan shot putting ace, will no longer thrill the crowds with his mammoth heaves was a sickening shock. Fonville, who handled the 16-pound (7.3 kg) shot like the average citizen does a baseball, might have been the greatest in the history of the event. Tall, powerful and perfectly co-ordinated, he was becoming the idol of weight fans throughout the nation. He destroyed the lingering notion that a good shot put man had to resemble a two-legged hippo. He gave hope to the athletes who were big—but didn't seem big enough. At the Big Nine track meet at Madison, Wisconsin in the spring of this year one could discover exactly how much the soft spoken Negro had contributed. ... Every time he came on the line murmurs of anticipation ... through the stands. The moment the ball left his hands all eyes followed it in lumbering flight. ... When [the judge] reported the Western Conference record had been broken an outburst, like wind from a giant bellows, popped from the stands. Though this was striking in itself the best treat remained to the last. After Fonville came back from the discus, even he was swamped with young and eager autograph hunters. With only a request for 'no shoving' the symmetrically perfect athlete sat down and fulfilled his obligation of fame."
— Waukeha Daily Freeman Sports editor Tom Smith's tribute to Fonville
In early November, doctors operated on Fonville, placing a bone graft onto his cracked vertebrae. After the surgery, doctors described the procedure as "100 percent successful."    Fonville refused to give up, saying at the time of the operation that, though he would not compete in 1949, he had been troubled by his back for two years and hoped the operation would cure him and allow him to compete again in 1950.

Comeback in 1950

After sitting out the 1949 season to allow time for his back to heal from the surgery, Fonville returned to competition in 1950.    The 1950 U-M yearbook, Michiganensian, simultaneously lamented about and praised Fonville's comeback, noting his return to form with a 55 feet 1 inch (16.79 m) throw in the Michigan A.A.U. meet in January and describing how it would have earned second place in the 1948 Olympics. However, Fonville was not able to throw at the distances he reached in 1948. After a victory in a meet against WisconsinThe Wisconsin State Journal said: "Charlie Fonville, the former world recordholder in the shot put, heaved a creditable 53 feet 7.5 inches (16.345 m) to win the event. The Negro star, sidelined for 18 months, returned to competition three weeks ago to heave more than 55 feet."   He also won the Big Ten Conference indoor title for the third time.    However, the AP noted that Fonville "returned to competition this season after laying out last year and either has lost his terrific snap or is favoring the back."    Jim Fuchs of Yale broke Fonville's world record, and the AP reported: "An injured back, perhaps, is all that stands in the way of boosting the world's record for the shot put to 60 feet. Michigan's Charlie Fonville, the athlete with the bad back, was the world's best shot putter two years ago and still holds the official mark of 58 feet 0.375 inches (17.68793 m)."   Though Fonville won the 1950 Drake relays, his winning throw of 52 feet 1.5 inches (15.888 m) was described as "comparatively puny" compared to the 58 feet 5.5 inches (17.818 m) throws of Jim Fuchs that year.   In 1952, Michigan track coach (and future athletic director) Don Canham dedicated his book Field Techniques Illustrated to Fonville as follows: "Dedicated to Charlie Fonville a world record holder who accepted disappointment as graciously as he did fame and success."      

Later years

After graduating from Michigan in 1950, Fonville worked in labor relations at Kaiser-Frazer, an automobile manufacturer, while attending Wayne State University Law School at night.   Fonville was a lawyer in private practice in Detroit from 1954 to 1994.      In 1979, Fonville was inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor. He was part of only the second class inducted into the U-M Hall of Honor, being inducted in the same year as Michigan legends Fielding H. YostFritz Crisler and Willie Heston. The only U-M track athlete inducted into the Hall of Honor before Fonville was Bob Ufer. In 1994, Fonville died at the University of Michigan Hospital—the same hospital where he had surgery in 1948 to repair his vertebrae.   He was 67 years old when he died.

Friday, February 24, 2017

V 7 N. 12 Derek Ibbotson R.I.P.

Derek Ibbotson with Kichoge Keino
Setting the World Record in the Mile, 1957

If you read our previous posting, you'll have seen a mention of Derek Ibbotson, one of Great Britain's early sub four minute milers and a former World Record holder in that event at 3:57.2.  Notably he was also the first person to run a mile in exactly 4 minutes even.  Below is a link to the obituary from the The Mirror by Ben Rossington  recalling Mr. Ibbotson's career.

Derek Ibbotson

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

V 7 N. 11 Remember What's His Name?


In 1979 sports writer W. C. Heinz wrote the excellent memoir, Once They Heard The Cheers, following up on the lives of sports heroes who had, in the main, outlived their fame.
Each sport has its own list.  The occasional superstar will still be mentioned but, for each one,  scores and more of truly gifted athletes have faded into obscurity saved by the occasional trivia question in a sports journal or being resurrected every twenty-five or fifty years on an anniversary date.
Is it sad?  Is it better to be a “Has Been” rather than a “Never Was”?  Is this the comparison we want  to make?
That would be tragic because “Has Been” is a cruel term reducing an athlete’s peak performing years to a meaningless period of false fame instead of honoring the true achievements they actually were.
Let us focus for a moment on just track, and on just men, although the progression for women is much the same.
A review of runners who have held the world record for the mile reveals names, some more recognizable than others, who for greater or lesser periods stood on the peak of athletics’ premier event.  Just a few:
Hagg leading Andersson

Gunder Hagg……………..Runner and non-runner alike remember the name of Roger Bannister who first went sub-four in the mile.  But when was the last time you heard the name of the great Swedish world record holder who, with his countryman and competitor, Arne Andersson, drove the mile time down, second by second, until only the last twitch of the stopwatch remained before Bannister achieved immortality.
John Landy……………..Eclipsed by the turn of a head in his one race against Bannister, the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games,  Landy ran the second ever sub-four mile in 3: 58.0 in 1954 setting the world record that stood for the next four years.
Derek Ibbotson
Derek Ibbotson…………….This long forgotten runner returned the record to England briefly in 1957 when he ran 3:57.2.
Michel Jazy
Michel Jazy……………….A holder of nine world records including his 1965 time of 3:53.6 in the mile, he might be remembered in the United States solely because Jim Ryun was the next record holder.
John Walker
John Walker……………..Perhaps the most unfortunate, unremembered, hero of all, Walker was the first man to run sub 3:50 in the mile with his 3:49.4 record in 1975, twenty-one years after Bannister’s historic run.

Filbert Bayi

Steve Cram and Steve Ovett

Sebastian Coe
Nouridienne Morceli

There are others, Bayi, Ovett, Cram, Coe, Morceli, etc.  They are alive today and track enthusiasts everywhere should honor them.  Second by second they set standards for others to chase.  They pushed the boundaries of physical perfection in running but they all, everyone, whether they thought about it or realized it, demonstrated that men and women can do magnificent things if they are willing to strive, fall back, and strive again.  
To reference only an athlete’s competitive career leaves blank the years following retirement.  Most, if not all, of the world record holding milers went on to very productive and, in many cases, distinguished lives in government, athletics, business and other endeavors showing that the drive to excel in running was also present in civilian life.
Don Bowden
Fame is a tenuous thing.  We honor an athlete for his or her achievements but if one goal is met and not followed by another, the fan moves on although the achievement remains.  A case in point: when was the last time you heard any coach or runner make a reference to Don Bowden.
You remember, Don Bowden don’t you?  A great runner…………. the first American to run sub-four in the mile, 3:58.7 in 1957………..Bowden had a relatively short career as a competitive athlete due to injuries but has had a long and successful life afterward.   He helped develop the Tartan Track;  he has his own business; he is active in the Bring Back the Mile movement.  The first American to run sub-four…………..and too few remember his name.
To be sure, some runners’ competitive careers are longer than others.  Also, Americans (except for die-hard track nuts) tend to remember only the American champions.  We are a fickle lot and it is not to our credit that after their days of glory, great runners, world record holding runners, become an afterthought.
These men and women were standard bearers.  May their memories live always fresh in our minds.
Tom Coyne
February 14, 2017

 This piece by Tom Coyne brought back a memory about Don Bowden --- I was at the meet in 1957 at the College of Pacific when Don ran the 3.58.7. I was at the end of the pole vault runway getting ready to vault, the announcer was telling all about the record chance, and as Don came off the last turn into the straightaway, I dropped my pole and ran along with him on the infield shouting encouragement ---don't know if he remembers this but I sure do.

  Bill Flint

For those who don't know Bill.  He is a salty old steel  pole  man who vaulted for Stanford in those days. ed.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

V 7 N. 10 (1) Jon Hendershott's Most Memorable Men's Sprints and Hurdles

        Enjoy this memory lane article by Jon Hendershott.  We've inserted pictures and video clips where appropriate. Two videos that do not seem to be available are Rod Milburn's win in Munich and Renaldo Nehemiah's 13.16. ed.  We're honored to be putting these stories by Jon online for the first time.  George, Roy, Steve

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


Men’s Sprints & Hurdles.

by Jon Hendershott

In 48 years of writing at Track & Field News, and some 60 total seasons of following our great sport, I have been privileged to witness many (many) superb performances.

After a year of retirement—and much reminiscing, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not—I decided to chronicle those performances that evoke my strongest memories.

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).
Jim Hines

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.
It was a true privilege to attend that reunion dinner and hear Hines proclaim, “That race was the greatest race ever and it made us the greatest runners.”

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.”

Charlie Greene
Roger Bambuck
Ronnie Ray Smith

Lennox Miller

Mel Pender
Larry Questad
Yes, Sacramento ’68 was an exceptional night to remember. Yet my most memorable race of pure straightaway power and speed came on the night of August 16, 2009, in Berlin’s World Championships final. Jamaican star Usain Bolt had ascended to superstardom the year before at the Beijing Olympics by taking both sprint victories, plus the 4 x 100 (though the relay title has since been stripped due to a positive doping test for a teammate).

Usain Bolt
On Berlin’s blue track—in the same stadium where immortal Jesse Owens won four Games golds in 1936—Bolt underscored his phenomenal talent by dashing 9.58 to slash his own global mark by no less than 0.11, the largest record lowering ever in the auto-timed era. The wind read +0.9mps as Bolt led virtually the entire race. IAAF splits show he passed 50-meters in 5.48 and 60m in 6.31—both faster than the accepted indoor WR marks of 5.56 and 6.39.
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.
Otis Davis
Davis was an early hero of mine, being a graduate of the University of Oregon (my dad’s alma mater;  he pole vaulted for coach Bill Hayward in the late 1930s) and also because he won a pulsating Rome final the previous year in a World Record 44.9—at age 28, ancient for world-level competing in those days.

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.
Otis Davis
He smiled and replied simply, “That’s nice—but did I win the race?” I said he did indeed win and he said, “Ah, good.” Ever the competitor.

But my most memorable 200 came from—who else?—Mr. Bolt.  Again in Berlin at the ’09 Worlds, this time on the evening of August 20, just two days after his sensational 100 WR.

After Usain’s record century effort, and his comfort in winning his 200 heat and semi, the denizens in Berlin’s press tribune speculated just how fast he might run in the half-lap final. I suggested we stage a pool to pick UB’s winning time. Pay 1 Euro to get in & pick a time. Mr. Smarty (that would be moi) reasoned that he would just try to win.  Bolt had set the 19.30 WR to win at the Beijing Olympics.  I just thought there was no need for him to overexert himself to complete the Worlds sprint sweep. I predicted 19.35.

I believe T&FN’s Sieg Lindstrom guessed at a just-under-the-record 19.28 (or so). Correspondent Ben Hall picked right around 19.30, as I recall. Staffer Jeff Hollobaugh got some ribbing when he picked something in the 19.20 range. We guffawed and Jeff just smiled.

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.
Finally the official time flashed up on the trackside clock and the stadium scoreboard: 19.19! Bolt had not only put the global record under 19.30—he had skipped the 19.20s altogether!
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.

It was, simply put, the single most memorable performance I have ever witnessed.

Michael Johnson

At the time of the ’99 World Champs in Seville, Spain, Butch Reynolds owned the one-lap WR with his 43.29 at the 1988 Zürich Weltklasse meet. Reynolds 43.29
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.

And when he split 21.22 and 31.66 at the 200 and 300 points, it was clear where his aim really was focused. His distinctive, low-slung arm carry didn’t waver down the final straight and he broke the timing beam at 43.18 while winning the race by some 10-meters. Michael Johnson 43.18 WR

It was a stunning performance as Johnson backed up the guess by his long-time coach Clyde Hart of a time in the 43.19-43.20 range. MJ himself admitted to a sense of relief that he had finally broken the record that so many followers had expected for his entire career.

“When you have been chasing something for so long, it’s a relief to finally get it,” Johnson said. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”

And Johnson’s mark survived for 17 years, until South African Wayde van Niekerk cut the record down to 43.03—from lane 8, no less— at the Rio Olympics.
Next stop: the 42s.


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.

The first was a World Record that many people hardly realized was a record. Well, not quite true: the hand time for the race equaled the WR—but the automatic time set a new mark all by itself.

The race was the 1972 Olympic final in Munich, staged on September 7, when all Games competition resumed following the memorial service the day before for the 11 Israeli athletes killed by Arab terrorists on September 5.
Rod Milburn
American Rod Milburn was the ’71 T&FN Athlete of the Year and the world’s best high hurdler, by far. And the Louisianan—he of the mutton-chop whiskers and white knee-length socks—surged over the 10 sticks in Olympiastadion in a hand-timed 13.2 to match the WR.

But those also were the days of dual-timed records, hand plus auto, and Milburn clocked 13.24 to set an outright best. It was an effort of unquestioned supremacy as Milburn turned back France’s Guy Drut (who would win four years later in Montréal) by 0.10. (Regrettably no video is available of this race. ed. )

Milburn 110HH Munich (The beauty of this blog. An anonymous reader came up with this amateur film of the race. ed.)

My second memorable 110H race was another record that was unlooked-for. The 1979 Bruce Jenner Classic Grand Prix meet in San José, California, was staged on April 14, early in even the U.S. spring campaign. Many athletes had barely begun serious outdoor-season training, let alone the speedwork and technical sharpening required.
So it was a shock—pleasantly so—when barely-20-year-old Maryland sophomore Renaldo Nehemiah ran faster than the world had ever seen. The Maryland sophomore sped 13.16 to trim 0.05 off the WR set nearly two years earlier by Cuba’s Alejandro Casañas.
Renaldo Nehemiah
Besides the time by the hurdler then called “Skeets”—and I once heard his mom call him “Skee,” which sounded even quicker, and yet fitting for such a fleet and supremely-talented athlete—the race is especially memorable for me since it came on the blue San José City College track. It was an oval on which I had run during my competitive days (it was black rubberized asphalt back then), so I had compiled a lot of personal memories there (including my last formal competition, a PR decathlon of 5159 points back in 1973).

Then, too, I had interviewed Nehemiah for T&FN going back to his high school junior season at New Jersey’s Scotch Plains-Fanwood High. I had spoken with Renaldo, as well as his coach Jean Poquette, on numerous occasions after his many record-setting prep hurdling exploits.

Both athlete and coach came to feel like friends, so it was extra thrilling to see Nehemiah’s first World Record. But the 13.16 didn’t last long as, some three weeks later, Nehemiah sped 13.00 in Los Angeles. Then two years after that, he broke the event’s big 13-second barrier with his historic 12.93 in Zürich. That mark lasted for eight years and, in all, Nehemiah owned the global record for better than a decade.

This is another event that’s tough for me to pick just one “best” performance.  I also ran the one-lap hurdles and—yes—usually as an also-ran. I actually could pick three best races.
John Akii-Bua
The first would be the 47.82 World Record authored by Uganda’s John Akii-Bua to win the ’72 Olympic title. It always helped my feeling of the “mostest” when I was reporting on an event, and so it was on that late-summer evening in Germany. The fact that Akii-Bua slashed the record by 0.03—from lane 1—only added to the amazement. John Akii Bua WR (2nd half in English)

Then there was the man who succeeded Akii-Bua as Olympic champion. Edwin Moses had begun serious concentration on the 400H only in the spring of ’76. Yet the brilliant physics student from Atlanta’s Morehouse College had improved hugely all season and won the Olympic Trials in an American Record of 48.30. Again, I had been lucky enough to cover Moses’s emergence basically from its beginning, so I had gotten to know him well.
Edwin Moses

Edwin Moses
Fairview HS, Dayton, OH

Then, King Edwin buried the Montréal field with a 47.64 record, and U.S. teammate Mike Shine won an unexpected silver medal (again from the inside lane 1) for a glorious USA 1-2.

But the Moses mark that stands out most for me came at the 1977 USA (then the AAU) Championships at UCLA. He powered around the Drake Stadium oval in 47.45 to slash his own WR while leaving ’76 national champ Tom Andrews 2nd in a far-back 49.03. Edwin Moses 47.45, 1977 (commentary in Italian ed.)

And, memorably, I got to spend a post-race hour with Edwin and friends in his hotel room, celebrating his achievement. Yet again, “being there” only added so much depth to the experience.

Edwin eventually won the ’84 Games title, part of a 122-race winning streak that stretched over a full decade. He set two more records during that stretch, getting the record tantalizingly close to sub-47 with his 47.02 fastest.
But my most memorable intermediates race was produced by the man who broke Moses’s 47.02 WR.

In the ’92 Olympic final in Barcelona, long-legged Kevin Young ended the 19-year reign of Moses’s revered 47.02 WR via a performance that still defies belief in me nearly 25 years after he produced it.
Kevin Young

On August 6, 1992, in Barcelona’s hill-top Montjuic Stadium, UCLA grad and ’88 Games 4th-placer Young unfurled the ground-gobbling strides inherent in his 6’4¼” frame, holding back nothing. He even covered the 35-meters between two backstretch hurdles with 12—yes, twelve—strides, one less than the more-common 13 used by some, but not all, of the world’s best.

Young, 25 at the time, carried a 5-meter margin into the homestretch and stretched it to 7 by the line—despite creaming the final obstacle with his left lead leg. But nothing could stop Young and the clock showed why: a stunning WR of 46.78, history’s first—and so far, only—sub-47 time.

It literally was an historic achievement, since Young remains the fastest one-lap hurdler ever, 0.24 ahead of Moses’s still-brilliant 47.02. The closest any hurdler has ever come to either of those clockings was the 47.03 run by Bryan Bronson to win the ’98 U.S. title. Kevin Young WR 46.78.

Yet again, being able to cover the event only added to my pleasure and amazement to first witness and then report on a performance that has not been approached, let alone threatened, for nearly a quarter-century.

(Next: the distances and the two Olympic relays.)


Outstanding.  This is like having Joe DiMaggio coming to play on your baseball team.

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