Bob Hayes: A Fateful Decision by The World’s Fastest Man

Hayes Boston Carr in Tokyo _ Getty
Members of the Japanese press interview three US track stars (left to right): Bob Hayes, Ralph Boston and Henry Carr, shortly after the first contingent of the US Olympic team arrived here September 29th; Getty Images

I am enjoying the book, Inside the Five-Ring Circus, by 1964 Olympian, Ollan Cassell, and I recently read this delicious tidbit about double-gold medalist Olympic legend, Bob Hayes.

In 1964, the fastest man in the world in 200 meters was Henry Carr. As Cassell explained, Carr won the US trials for the 200 meters in New York in the Spring. But the US Olympic track and field authorities held a second trial in Los Angeles in the summer, and Carr was unfortunately out of condition, finishing fourth in the trials. Since the top three qualified for the Olympic squad, Carr was unexpectedly off the team.

In stepped Hayes, who happened to finish third in the 200 meters, and had already qualified for Tokyo in the 100 meters. Hayes ceded his spot to Carr on the 200-meter team, and Carr got his motor running, training twice a day to get ready for Tokyo. As Cassell wrote, “everyone on the team was indeed grateful to Bob.”

Inside Five Ring Circus CoverHayes of course went on to take gold in the 100 meters and 4×100 relay in spectacular fashion. But his gracious act continued to pay dividends. Rejuvenated, Carr was looking strong prior to his races, in shape, and ready to win. Not only did Carr set an Olympic record in the 200 meters, he anchored the US men’s 4×400 relay team, blazing to a world record finish.

Perhaps thanks to that fateful decision by Bob Hayes, fellow track mates Mike Larrabee and Henry Carr won their second gold medals of the Tokyo Olympics, while Cassell and teammate Ulis Williams took home gold as well. Wrote Cassell in his book, “standing on the victory podium, receiving a gold medal and watching the USA flag rise on the highest pole made me feel it was all worth it.”

Thanks Bob!

NOTE: In Hayes’ autobiography, “Run, Bullet, Run,” Hayes writes that he indeed did finish third in the trials cited above, but that since Carr had won in the initial trials at Randall’s Island, “(Carr) retained his place on the team, and I was bumped out of a spot in the 200-meter race.” Hayes doesn’t refer to relinquishing his spot (although it still could have been a factor.)