It’s the Olympics. You’re a football player with blazing speed, and you’re prepping to win gold, to be crowned the fastest man in the world.
But on October 15, 1964, in the midst of the Tokyo Olympics, Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev was removed from power by Soviet leadership. American journalists, hoping to get a great quote from the biggest name in Tokyo, ask Bob Hayes, “What do you think?”
As he wrote in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, “What did a twenty-one-year-old kid who was trying to win a gold medal at the Olympics know about what was happening in the Soviet Union? I mean, if the experts in the CIA couldn’t see Khrushchev’s downfall coming, what was I supposed to know about it?”
Hayes hit the nail on the head with his response to the press: “I’m just going to answer your question once. I’m here to win a gold medal and not to talk about politics.”
Hayes, like the best high performance athletes, was focused on his mission. Gold in the 100-meter finals. Gold in the 4×100-meter relays.
And yet….there’s always something.
It is hours before the finals of the 100-meter dash on October 15. Hayes is sitting in his room in the Olympic Village with the hopes of keeping himself calm. His roommate, long jumper Ralph Boston, is lying on his bed, keeping to himself.
Then walks in Joe Frazier, boxing heavyweight contender, who bounced into Hayes’ room a “bundle of nerves, but especially that day because he had an important boxing match coming up. He started throwing punches at my head. I asked him to leave me alone, so he went over to Ralph’s bed and threw jabs up to within an inch or two of Ralph’s head.”
Needless, to say, the eventual gold medal and heavyweight champion of the world was a distraction. Not getting the reaction he wanted, Frazier began rummaging Hayes’ bag for gum, stuck it in his mouth, and left.
Flash forward to the National Stadium and the fastest runners in the world are prepping for the 100-meter finals. Hayes gets to the track and opens his bag to pull out his shoes. To his surprise, he finds only his right shoe. He dumps the contents of his bag and can’t find the left shoe. “The biggest race of my life, and I was missing a shoe.”
But who walks by but middle distance runner and teammate, Tom Farrell. Hayes has relatively small feet and is hoping against hope that Farrell happens to have the same size shoes – size eight. So when Farrell replied to Hayes’ sudden and unusual question, he said “Well, I wear size eight.”
Not only did Farrell wear the same size shoe, he also wore the Adidas 100 shoe that Hayes’ did. Now, properly attired for battle, Hayes lined up.
And then he learned that Hayes was placed in lane 1. Lane 1 is the innermost lane on the track, and the cinder track had been chopped up by some three dozen race walkers for three circles before heading out on the rest of their 20K journey. Don’t the fastest runners in the semis get the choice middle lanes? Not at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where sprinters were assigned lanes randomly.
So Hayes set up his blocks. His biggest rivals, Cuban Enrique Figuerola and Canadian Harry Jerome were in the less chewed up lanes 3 and 5. As he got set at his mark, the muscular Hayes was a tightly wound coil ready to spring, ticked off about his lane placement. “I was totally intense, the more so because iw as angry about having to run in the inside lane. Finally, I picked out a spot straight ahead of me down the track and vowed that I was going to get there before anyone else did.”
He did. Convincingly. Watch the video from the 3’ 55” mark to watch the black and white footage of the race. The angle is long enough to show the entire field. And you can see Hayes dominating the field from start to finish. Fastest Man in the World. By far.
Gold medal in hand, Hayes returned to his room. Hidden under his bedspread was the missing shoe. The next time he saw Joe Frazier, he shouted “’Don’t you ever go in my bag again!’ That was about the only time I ever saw Joe Frazier apologetic.”
Bob Hayes – fastest man in the world – bringing new meaning to the phrase “if the shoe fits, wear it.”