Saturday, January 13, 2018

V 8 N. 3 Gene Cole R.I.P. 1952 4x400 Silver Medallist

Lancaster, Ohio native and Ohio State alum  Gene Cole passed away January 11, 2018.  He was a former national high school record holder (1948) in the 440 yards (48.0)  and member of the silver medal 4x400 team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.  

Cole's obituary from the Lancaster (OH) Eagle-Gazette follows.

Lancaster - Gerald E. (Gene) Cole passed away on January 11, 2018. Born in New Lexington, Ohio on February 18, 1928 to parents Gerald and Rosenell Cole, and raised in Lancaster, Gene attended Lancaster City Schools where he was a track and field star, elected to the Lancaster High School 

Hall of Fame. Moving on to The Ohio State University, Gene was again a sports stand-out, and was also inducted into the OSU Track and Field Hall of Fame. During his fourth year at OSU, Gene participated in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where he earned a silver medal in the 4 X 400 

meter relays. He was a Mason, Shriner and lifetime member of the Eagles. Gene retired from Anchor Hocking after nearly thirty years of service. Well known in the local real estate markets, where he was an agent for many years, Gene was a well-liked man who never seemed to meet a stranger. gives this brief bio of Gene Cole and a description of the WR 4x400 at Helsinki.

Gene Cole
After he ran 48.0 for 440 y in 1948 while in high school, no more was heard of Gene Cole for the next four years. During the interim he attended Ohio State, leaving track, but he decided to give it another try in 1952. After placing fifth in the AAU, Cole took second place at the Final Trials and at the Helsinki Games he ran 46.8 for fourth place in the semi-finals to become the first man in Olympic history to run a sub-47.0 400 m and not make the final. Running the second stage of the relay he clocked a remarkable 45.5, which gave some indication of what he might have accomplished had he chosen to spend more than one season in top-class track.
Personal Best: 400  46.7y (1952).

As in 1952, the final was considered a two-team race between Jamaica and the United States. [Ollie Matson], later an NFL running back, gave the US a slim lead on the opening leg over Jamaica's 1948 400 metre champion, [Arthur Wint]. On the second leg, [Gene Cole] extended the US lead with a 45.5 leg. When [Herb McKenley] received the baton for his third leg, he was over 10 metres in arrears. Racing against 400 hurdles gold medalist [Charlie Moore], McKenley ran the fastest 400 leg yet recorded, 44.6 sec., the first time any runner had bettered 45 seconds for 400 metres. As they neared the bell lap, McKenley gave Jamaica a narrow lead. The anchor was contested between Jamaica's [George Rhoden] and the USA's [Mal Whitfield], who had won the 400 and 800 metre gold medals, respectively. Whitfield ran on Rhoden's shoulder for the entire last lap, but could never quit pull even or pass him. Jamaica won the gold medal in the greatest 4x400 relay to that time, breaking the world record, with the United States also bettering the old mark, by over four seconds.

These comments from David Agosta who knew Gene Cole quite well.

From '90 to '02 I had lunch with Gene about once every other month.  He was quite the story teller, true stories and really got into them. He was also uncannily honest.  I asked to take a picture of his silver medal (2nd fastest split in the '52 games 4 X 400) to display in our trophy case and he tried to give me the medal to display.  I had a tough time making him understand I could not shoulder the responsibility of theft.  He really didn't seem to care.  

My apologies if I have shared this previously:  I pressed him about what he might have accomplished had he ran his first three years in college, or had the training and technology of today's world to his disposal.  He said the amazing part was that track season was only about 3 weeks long in '48.  A week to train, conference, & state.  He also said that he was nothing compared to Lancaster's Dwight Kane, a hurdler.  In '24 or '28 he was the trials heavy favorite and one of few favorites for gold in the OG.  In the trials final, the hole dug for the prior event (100m) start was not refilled in his lane and he fell (Gene's story).  

Editor's note.   The year for Dwight Kane (Ohio Wesleyan University) was 1928.  He came into the Olympic Trials with the 4th fastest time at 14.7.  He was eliminated in a quarter final heat (4th place) that was won in 15.0.  So there is certainly some accuracy in Gene Cole's account.

Finally, Gene answered the question:  "I suppose in today's high school world I would have run 52 or 52.5."  I just looked at him miffed.  He continued, "I'd have been focused working at McDonald's to buy a car to impress the girls."  I guess there are also potential negatives to a more modern world.

For the record, his HS time of 48.0 440y has not been bettered in Lancaster history.  We had a 48.00 400 meters in the late 90's but still not clearly superior.  


A few more Gene Cole facts that might be of interest:  Lancaster HS did not have track during and after WWII.  A coach/PE teacher pushed to have it reinstated because "the Cole kid can win state in the 100, 200, or 400".  He won all three in his first year in the sport including a national HS record in the 400.  Gene told me that the season was three weeks long but a few others from that time period say he was exaggerating and it was more like 5-6 weeks.  He ran the '48 Olympic trials later that summer.  I cannot find a time for Gene in the '48 trials.  In fact I cannot find that he ran at all.  He was specific on time, place, and venue (Northwestern - Evanston, IL) but I cannot find a record of his participation.  Gene thought he ran 47.7 which is superior to his school record of 48.0 but I can't confirm it and would like to do so.  

Gene went on to OSU but chose not to run.  He did not return to the sport until his senior season and was an Olympian with a 45.5 split, second fastest of any games to that point.  Gene also ran the fastest time in Olympic history that did not make the finals in the open 400 (46.9 is what I recall from memory).  Many thought he was an incredible talent beyond his accomplishments considering he really only competed two full seasons; one as a senior in HS and one as a senior in college.  

Finally, as a 9th grader I was competing in the Gene Cole Invitational mile.  It was a 9th grade only meet.  I won.  I had what I thought was a large lead and eased the final 10 meters and would have lost had it been 2 steps longer.  Gene was at the finish line.  I had never met him but knew who he was.  Gene grabbed my arm and walked me away from everyone and softly but firmly said, "NEVER ease until you cross the finish line.  You ALWAYS rub it in their face." He let me go and walked away.  


Good stuff fleshing out the man after his athletic career was over.  I can understand his willingness to part with his silver medal.  It was a token commemorating an accomplishment in his past.  He knows he did it.  He remembers every detail, every nuance.  A physical souvenir makes it no more real.

I just experienced the same emotion.  When cleaning out a cupboard in the carport, a framed certificate proclaiming me the Teacher of the Year* at South Valley HS  fell on the ground.  That was several weeks ago.  Now the certificate has been separated from the frame.  Both will go out in the next recycling load.  I don't need the physical remembrance.  The memories of the cheering crowds are enough.

* there were seven of us on the faculty     

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