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.

1 comment:

br said...

Amateur video of Milburn's race.

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