wyomia tyus with four medals Two-time Olympian, four-time medalist, Wyomia Tyus

Being a black athlete in America in the 1960s was a challenge. Being a black woman athlete was often an insurmountable barrier.

“Black women were less than second-class citizens, and they had to work – they had to work hard,” she wrote in her excellent autobiography, Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story, co-authored by Elizabeth Terzakis.

There were not a lot of options for women in sports at that time, and the options we did have were especially restricted because they were for girls. When I started playing basketball, girls couldn’t run up and down the court – you had to play half-court: three guards on one side, three forwards on the others, and you could only dribble three times before you had to pass or you’d be called for traveling.

But if anybody made do with limited opportunity, it was Wyomia Tyus. She grew up in Griffin, Georgia, in a house with no plumbing and unsteady access to electricity, that, on her tenth birthday, burned to the ground, leaving the family of six with nothing but memories. And yet her family persevered, and Tyus continued to grow up in a supportive household, as she told me.

By growing up in a small town, my parents worked very hard, they always said that it is not always going to be this way, you will have opportunities, that you don’t see this when you are young. I didn’t mind being poor. I didn’t think about it. I thought I had as much as everyone else. Thanks to my parents, I felt free. I felt I could do whatever I wanted to do. They taught us that we could that we just had to work hard. You can’t quit. You just have to work it.

Tyus learned from her brothers how to compete, and never to give in, as she wrote in Tigerbelle.

They could knock me down twenty times, and I’d be back up fighting. ‘Could you just stay down?’ they would always say. But I never would. My attitude was: You’re going to know you’ve been in this war. I might get the worst of it, but you’re going to know that you’ve been in a way. They taught me all of that.

Being brought up in a nurturing home was important. Natural athletic ability was critical. But Tyus was lucky that one of the few people in the country who could help grow her career was in town one day – legendary track coach, Ed Temple of Tennessee State University.

“I was lucky,” she told me. “I don’t take that lightly. I always think about how Mr. Temple saw me run and thought that I had the potential to come to Tennessee State and run and maybe go to the Olympics. He was going to other meets in Mississippi and Alabama. That’s how he would choose the girls. And I wasn’t winning when he saw me. I was doing ok, but he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

Tyus would go on to star in one of the few institutions in America that developed women track and field athletes in the 1960s. Generally speaking, however, women, and especially black women, were constantly ignored and belittled.

At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the coach of the US men’s track team decided that the women were not really part of the US Olympic squad as he refused to allow the entire shipment of sprinter’s starting blocks to be used by the women sprinters, as explained in Tigerbelle. “What are you talking about?” Mr. Temple said to him. “I thought we were the American team – that we were all the American team.”

The women’s track team were just about resigned to using the starting blocks available to the Japan team when American sprinter, Bob Hayes, spoke up. “What kind of craziness is this? You can use my blocks any time you want.” The male athletes then began sharing the equipment, trumping the sexist attitude of the coach.

Tyus and teammate, Edith McGuire, went on to finish gold and silver in Tokyo. And Tyus came home to a parade in her hometown. But, while everyone in the universe knew that Bob Hayes was the star of stars at the Tokyo Olympiad, little did the rest of the United States know or care about the fastest woman in the world.

Tigerbelle Wyomia Tyus Story CoverAs the Americans began their preparations for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the track and field women were again dismissed as an afterthought. As she wrote in Tigerbelle, it was necessary to train in a high altitude venue to match conditions in Mexico City. Lake Tahoe, California was perfect and scenic. But only the men were invited to train there. The women of the track and field team were shipped to Los Alamos, New Mexico.

When we got off the bus, we all looked around and said, “Wow, there’s nothing here.” Because there was nothing in that town—nothing but all the nuclear weapons development facilities. As time went on, we began to understand why it was so isolated. There was a long-distance runner who would just go off and run, and one day she headed into an area that she shouldn’t have been in. That’s when the coaches called us together and told us, “You should not be running anywhere but where you’re told.”

Instead of focusing on peak performance, the women were wondering “what am I breathing in?”

Tyus went on to win the gold medal in the women’s individual 100-meter sprint as well as the women’s 100-meter relay. But her accomplishments were drowned out by the feats of a very strong American men’s squad in Mexico City, and also more generally by an American press that could not see the value in, or perhaps, could not overcome the fear of promoting the accomplishments of black women.

At the time, they were not about to bathe a Black woman in glory. It would give us too much power, wouldn’t it? Because it would have been a moment, if you think about it: “She won back-to-back gold medals; nobody in the world has ever done that. Let’s paint the US all over her—let’s drape her in a flag!” You would think. But no. I would never see them hanging a flag on me. Because one thing the Olympics is not about is giving power to the powerless.

Her coach Temple wrote tellingly in his book, Only The Pure in Heart Survive, that Tyus’ incredible feat of back to backs would likely be forgotten. He wrote the following in 1980, eight years before Carl Lewis became the first man to be crowned fastest in the world two Olympiads in a row.

If a man ever achieves this, everyone will probably say he’s the first – until they look back over the records and discover that Wyomia Tyus did it long before any of them. Maybe by then she’ll get the recognition she really deserves. 

And yet, Tyus understands that the unsupported minority need to leverage what they get. And she understands that history is on her side.

If you make history, there’s no way they cannot put you in it. It may not be the way I want, but every time they talk about the 100 meters, they have to mention my name. Maybe softly. Maybe just once. But they have to.

Wyomia Tyus Park_Akashic Books

In 1999, over 30 years after her historic back-to-back 100-meter Olympic gold medal, the name of Wyomia Tyus was shouted out loudly and proudly, with the opening of the Wyomia Tyus Olympic Park, a 164-acre swath of greenery with picnic areas, ball parks and soccer fields, not far from where Tyus grew up in Griffin, Georgia.

Surrounded by friends and family, Tyus was overwhelmed by the recognition. “I was speechless, to tell you the truth. I was shocked and pleased and didn’t know that people cared so much. It was great.”

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Gerald Ashworth, Richard Stebbins, Paul Drayton, and Bob Hayes_The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics
Gerald Ashworth, Richard Stebbins, Paul Drayton, and Bob Hayes, from the picture book, The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics (Baseball Magazine)

The American men’s 4×100 relay team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics broke the world record, and won the gold medal. A more apt description is that Bob Hayes won the team the gold medal. His historic anchor leg took the American team from 5th to 1st in arguably the fastest 100-meter leg in 4×100 relay history.

As Rich Stebbins said, “The good lord gave Bob Hayes something most people don’t have. Pure unadulterated speed.”

And yet, it is a team event. Four sprinters have to circle the track and transfer the baton successfully three times in stride in order to have a chance. Stebbins knew this. He was a member of Grambling State University’s dominant 4×100 championship team, which had a 18-match stretch where they were one or two tenths off the world record. “The secret was we had exquisite exchanges. We would walk around campus handing the baton off.”

The American relay team was in a bit of a pickle. Mel Pender and Trent Jackson were speedsters who got injured during the individual 100-meter sprint competition, so were unavailable for the relay. Paul Drayton was available but had to run with a pulled muscle in his leg. So when the coaches and sprinters gathered to discuss the make up of the team, Stebbins said Hayes looked at him explaining that Stebbins was the best relay runner in the country, and said, “He third, I’m anchor, and I don’t care who else.”

Stebbins was very confident in his hand-offs and could do so with either his left or right hand, and so when Hayes told him he wanted the baton in his right hand, Stebbins made the exchange with his left. Hayes is so fast that he almost outran Stebbin’s hand-off. But the baton landed firmly in Hayes’ right palm, and off he went, racing into history.

Fifty two years later, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Stebbins saw on his television a team that reminded him of the importance of great baton passing. “The Japanese team that won silver – their passing was exquisite.”

Rich Stebbins_high sc hool
Stebbins, crossing the finish line in the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 relay for Fremont High School leading them to the 1962 Los Angeles City Championship. (Photo Courtesy of Richard V. Stebbins)

 

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Bob Hayes launching into the record books at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 100-meter sprint finals, from the book The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics.

 

Bob Hayes, a student at Florida A&M, was eating dinner in the university’s student union building when he heard that the campus police wanted to speak to him. When he found the police, they told him they were taking him to jail for robbery.

According to Hayes’ autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, a friend named James Vickers said that he and Hayes had robbed a fellow student. Vickers held up a plastic gun and got what the student had: eleven cents and two sticks of gum. Hayes said he had no idea what the police were talking about, but he was carted off to the city jail, where Hayes stayed for 7 days without showering and changing clothes. With no money, no lawyer, no idea what to do, Hayes said he signed a confession and pleaded guilty in the hopes of getting out of jail.

When it was time for sentencing, Hayes’ coach, Jack Gaither made an appeal to the judge: “If you give me this boy for four years, I guarantee you he won’t get in trouble and he’ll make you proud of him.” Hayes was put on probation for ten years and had to report to a probation officer once a month. All that for eleven cents and two sticks of gum, taken with a plastic gun, by someone else.

Thanks to Gaither, Hayes had a fruitful college football career. He then went on to win two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, be crowned the fastest man in the world, and win a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, the first of only two people to have reached such heights. Retired from sports, Hayes anticipated a trip to the NFL Hall of Fame, thanks to the way he revolutionized American football, stretching defenses with his speed. Bob Hayes was on top of the world. Until the police came calling again.

It was the middle of the night in March, 1978, when the police banged vigorously on Hayes’ door. The police arrested him for selling drugs, and carted him off to the local jail. A man named Denny Kelly, described as an airline pilot and an undercover policemen in the Dallas area, where Hayes was living, apparently befriended Hayes, and little by little would ask for drugs. Hayes wrote that first he provided Kelly with methaqualone (also known as Quaaludes), and connected Kelly to people who could sell him cocaine. Hayes introduced Kelly to another person who would end up selling Kelly cocaine. As conversations and video of Kelly and Hayes were recorded, including one at Hayes office at a computer company he was working at.

Bob Hayes_older

Two pills of Quaaludes, apparently “sold” to Kelly when Hayes borrowed ten dollars from Kelly to pay for gas, as well as five grams of cocaine sold by a person introduced by Hayes in a case that suspiciously looked like entrapment – this should have resulted in a light sentence, slap on the wrist perhaps – but this was a second offense. Because Hayes had a previous arrest record in the case where he allegedly stole 11 cents and two sticks of gum, his case could have gone to a jury trial where, if convicted, Hayes could have gone to prison for many years. Even though his teammates all testified that Hayes was not a drug dealer, they knew that the risk of Hayes going to a jury, one that could have been packed with whites, was too great, so they encouraged him to plead guilty with the hopes of getting off lightly.

Unfortunately, the judge sentenced Hayes to five years in prison. No longer the iconic #22 wide receiver, Hayes was inmate number 290973 of the Texas prison system. Here’s how he described his life in prison in his autobiography:

After living the good life – a nice house, and the best hotels when I traveled – I found myself in an eight-by-ten foot cell for several weeks of orientation and then in a dormitory with about a hundred other inmates, most of whom were fifteen or so years younger than me, using a public shower like I had with the Cowboys and eating in amess hall. We had to be counted four times a day to make sure that none of us was missing and a count could take as long as an hour if someone was unaccounted for.

Being in prison taught me a little more about the values of life. I saw the things I was missing and how I always took things for granted. You don’t really miss freedom until you don’t have any choice. Just being able to get a glass of milk or a Pepsi whenever I wanted one meant so much more to me after I got out.

Fortunately for Hayes, he did not serve five years. His case was overturned on appeal, and he was free. In today’s terms, it appears to be a tough punishment for someone who only introduced another person to a very persistent undercover cop, and did not technically sell anything to anyone. And yet, his time in prison followed him like a dark cloud. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, twenty years after Hayes’ triumphs in Tokyo, Hayes was shunned from the Games by the US Olympic Committee. And in this interview with Frank Gifford during ABC’s coverage of the Games, you can tell that Hayes is miffed at his treatment.

I’m in between jobs now. It has been very difficult for me. It very difficult to get someone to trust and believe in me now as a citizen because no one thinks of me in terms of my accomplishments. Just the drug conviction. Frank, I spent ten months in incarceration for a total of 700 dollars that I was indirectly involved in. I would love to get a good writer, like an Alex Haley, a director like a Norman Lear, and a TV network like an ABC, who can really get out there and show the American public what has happened to named athletes. Not only a named athlete but everyone. I want people to see what has happened. It has been a downhill situation. It’s very difficult to come out on top again when someone continues to kick you and stab you in the back, to redeem yourself.

When Hayes said he was on the stand, he had admitted: “I’m not the smartest guy in the world. If I was, I wouldn’t be up here. I’m guilty. I was wrong. I’ve paid the price in my image and my respect. People see me as Bob Hayes, dope dealer, not Bob Hayes, the citizen. It hurts.”

In his autobiography, Hayes went further: “My whole prison experience turned out to be a waste, a nightmare that never should have happened.”

When he passed away, the only man to win a gold medal and a Super Bowl ring, a man who disrupted NFL defenses with his speed and skill, was denied entry into the NFL Hall of Fame. Eventually, Hayes was inducted, albeit over 6 years after Hayes’ death. Thinking that he might eventually get in, he wrote a Thank You note that was read posthumously at the 2009 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:

You know I am not sure I am going to be around if I get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame so you must read this for me, I am not sure, I guess I am feeling sorry for myself at this time but you must remember everything I want you to do and say. Mother said you would do what I want because you always did. So read this for me.

I would like to thank everyone who supported me to get into the NFL Hall of Fame, the Dallas Cowboys organization, all of my team mates and everyone who played for the Cowboys, (thank the San Francisco 49rs [sic] too). Thank the fans all around the country and the world, thank the committee who voted for me and also the ones who may did not vote for me, thank Mother and my family, thank Roger Stauback [sic] and tell all my teammates I love them dearly.

Thank the Pro Football Hall of Fame, all the NFL teams and players, Florida A&M University, thank everyone who went to Mathew [sic] Gilbert High School, thank everyone in Jacksonville and Florida and everyone especially on the East Side of Jacksonville. Thank everyone in the City of Dallas and in Texas and just thank everyone in the whole world.

I love you all.

Bob Hayes_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service
Bob Hayes, from the book Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service

He was born on Third Street on the east side of Jacksonville, Florida. People called it Hell’s Hole.

The youngest of four, Bob Hayes remembers growing up chopping firewood to keep the house warm, his mother working as a maid to keep the children fed and clothed, and a father that made little effort to recognize his son.

In his, at times, brutally honest autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, Hayes writes of his father George Sanders, who had an affair with Mary Hayes, while her husband, Joseph Hayes, was fighting in World War II in the US Navy. When Joseph returned, he accepted the situation. But when Sanders, who also went off to fight in World War II, came back, he rarely recognized Bob Hayes as his son. When Sanders was asked if Bob was his son, he would reply, “That’s what his mother says.”

And yet, his father needed his son. Sanders ran a shoe shine parlor in Hell Hole, but that was not his main source of revenue. In fact, as Hayes explained in his book, the shoe shine shop was a front for a numbers racket, and a lucrative one at that. Bob was helping out by manning the shoeshine parlor in the afternoons.

When Bob Hayes was in high school, the football coaches all thought Hayes was a potential talent and wanted the young man to be groomed into a star. But Sanders refused, putting his business ahead of Hayes’ potential. In the end, the assistant football coach, Earl Kitchings, and Jimmy Thompson, the head coach of the football team, visited Sanders to plead their case. When told no, a prominent alumni in Hayes’ high school, Josh Baker, stepped in and said he would fill in at the store while Hayes attended afternoon practice. At that stage, Sanders relented, and Hayes started practicing with the high school football team. Baker went to work…but for only two days. By then, Sanders couldn’t be bothered, and Hayes began a hall of fame football career.

And yet, Hayes yearned for his father’s support. And in his first year as a football player in high school, Hayes did not get that many touches, carrying the ball only 9 times as the team’s backup halfback. But there was that one play, when he took the hand off in his own end zone and scrambled for a 99-yard touchdown. “That’s when my father finally claimed me as his son.”

As Hayes grew up, one could say, like father, like son.

His first sexual experience, at the age of twelve, as he describes in his autobiography, was with his father’s girlfriend, a woman named Edith who was fifteen years older. At the age of sixteen, Hayes got a girlfriend pregnant, who had an abortion as they both felt they were not ready to take that next step as a parent.

During and after his days as an NFL star, Hayes would provide Quaaludes to women in order to have his way. “You give a female a lude, and all she knows how to say to you is yes.”

By the time he got to college, Hayes had two daughters, whom he did not raise. In fact, he was surprised one time after his football career had ended to have a woman in her early twenties come up to him and say, “You’re my dad.”

Hayes wasn’t a great father, which he readily admitted. When he and his then wife, Janice, had his first legitimate son, Bob Jr., he flew to Jacksonville to see his father George Sanders. Sanders had been in poor health since returning from the War in the Pacific. But a few hours before Hayes made it to Jacksonville, his father passed away.

Hayes won two gold medals and a super bowl championship, one of only two people to do that. He had the right coaches at the right time which helped him develop into a tremendous athlete. And yet, he never had the right coach in the game of relationships.

Here is my list of books penned by Olympians from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, continued from Part 1 here.

Inside Five Ring Circus Cover

Inside the Five Ring Circus: Changing Global Sports and the Modern Olympics, is written by Ollan Cassell, a gold medal member of the 4×400 US men’s track team in Tokyo, and long-time executive within the AAU, the powerful governing body of amateur sports through much of the 20th century. Cassel’s book is less about his track career and more about the fascinating history of amateur athletics in the United States. He was front and center in the debate and transition of the professionalization of sports in America.

in_the_long_run.jpg

In The Long Run – US 5000-Meter Olympic Gold Medalist Tokyo 1964 is an autobiography by the first and only American to win the 5,000 meter finals in an Olympics, Bob Schul. Co-written by Laura Rentz Krause, In the Long Run tells the story from his childhood growing up in West Milton, Ohio, to his torturous training sessions under legendary coach Mihaly Igloi in California, to meeting high expectations of victory in Tokyo.

Mary Mary cover

Mary Mary – An Autobiography of an Olympic Champion is by British long jump champion, Mary Rand. She was definitely one of the brightest stars at the 1964 Olympics. While expected to win gold in Rome, but didn’t, Rand redeemed herself in Tokyo, not only breaking the world record and winning gold in the long jump, but also taking silver in the pentathlon and bronze in the 4×100-meter women’s relay. An electrifying presence in person, Rand’s charm oozes through the pages as well.

No Bugles No Drums

No Bugles No Drums is an eloquent look of double middle-distance gold medalist, Peter Snell, the incredible double champion of the men’s 800 and 1500-meter middle-distance races at the ’64 Games. Written with Garth Gilmour, No Bugles No Drums is the appropriate title for a smart but understated athlete, who writes with wit and understated insight.

Brightwell Golden Girl vocer

Robbie Brightwell and His Golden Girl is by Robbie Brightwell, the captain of the Great Britain’s track team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It is the story not only of his journey to a fantastic silver medal anchoring the 4×400 relay team, but also of the journey of his wife, Ann Packer, who won gold in the 1500 and silver in the 400 meters (losing only to Betty Cuthbert). This is a story of self-discovery and leadership told with intelligence and charm.

Run Bullet Run cover

Run, Bullet, Run: The Rise, Fall, and Recovery of Bob Hayes is the incredible story of the career of Bob Hayes, one of only two people to win both a gold medal and a Super Bowl championship. Co-written with Robert Pack, Run, Bullet, Run is the story of a young black American whose rise to Olympic gold and stardom as a Dallas Cowboys wide receiver was as stunning as his fall due to drugs and alcohol.

wokini

Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding is by Billy Mills and co-written by novelist, Nicholas Sparks. Mills was one of the biggest stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Unlike Schul, who was pre-determined by the press to win the 5,000 meters, Mills was practically unapproached by the press, who hardly knew him. Mills went on to win the 10,000 meter finals in Tokyo in an incredible come-from-behind victory, inspiring Team America and millions around the world. Mills has gone on to great works in helping young Native American Indians in the United States, and wrote this inspirational parable of self discovery, Wokini.

See the other recommended books in Part 1.

Armin Hary and Horst Dassler
Armin Hary and Horst Dassler

The Sneaker Wars were in full force at Mexico City, where cash was handed out to athletes in exchange for wearing Adidas or Pumas. This quid pro quo was a considerably open secret in 1968.

But in 1964, getting cash for wearing sneakers was only for the privileged few. Bob Hayes, soon-to-be-crowned “fastest man in the world”, was one of the privileged few. In fact, in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, Hayes admitted that he had taken some $40,000 in under-the-table payments in his “amateur” track career.

Since knowledge of these payments would jeopardize Hayes’ amateur status, and thus his eligibility for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he could not openly flaunt his cash, or make expensive purchases. And while Hayes could have paid for a trip to Japan for his mother, Mary, so that she could watch her son win a gold medal, he didn’t, to avoid any inconvenient questioning. So he was grateful that his community of Jacksonville took up a money drive to pay for his mother’s trip to Japan.

The last person to be crowned “fastest man in the world” at the Olympics was Armin Hary. Hary was German and thus was the first non-American since 1932 to win Olympic gold in the 100 meters. Hary had retired from track and was working for Puma during the Tokyo Olympics. His job was to convince Hayes to wear Puma cleats in his 100-meter races. Here’s how Hayes’ describes their exchange in Tokyo:

“You’ve come to the right place, Bobby. Run in my shoe, and I’ll make it worth your while.”

“What do you mean, Armin?”

”I’ll pay you two thousand dollars in American money to wear Puma when you run.”

“Even if I lose?”

“There’s no way you’re going to lose, Bobby. I’m not sorry I’m hurt, so I won’t have to run against you. Nobody can beat the great Bob Hayes.”

“Thank you, Armin.  Let me think it over.”

The story of Puma is intertwined with the story of Adidas – the two companies headed by brothers: Adolph and Rudolph Dassler. And the rivalry between the two brothers, and thus the two companies, was famously fierce.

Bob Hayes_Bi to Chikara 2
Bob Hayes and his mother, Mary, from the book Bi to Chikara

Adolph Dassler’s son, Horst, was in Tokyo as well, hoping to ensure Hayes wore Adidas track shoes. And when he learned that Hayes had already talked with Hary and Puma, Horst immediately put in his bid, telling Hayes that $2,000 was an insult. Horst offered $3,000. And for the next few days, Armin Hary and Horst Dassler upped the bids.

Hayes knew he was in a bidding war, and started making suggestions himself: tailor-made handmade silk suits, and cash for the women’s 4×100 relay team. In the end, Adidas had a bottomless wallet. Hayes received $7,800 in cash and another $1,100 to buy 11 suits, as well as $400 for each of the women on the relay team.

“All that was for wearing the shoes I had been planning to run in all along,” wrote Hayes.

On top of the two gold medals, the nearly 10k in cash and kind, Hayes’ mother made out like a bandit.

“She came back to the United States loaded down with televisions, watches, and all sorts of clothing that people gave her in Tokyo. When her son won the gold medal, my mother became the first lady of track and field.”

Gerald Ashworth, Richard Stebbins, Paul Drayton, and Bob Hayes
Gerald Ashworth, Richard Stebbins, Paul Drayton, and Bob Hayes

Jocelyn Delecour was a trash talker. The anchor man on France’s 4×100 relay team, told Paul Drayton on the American squad that the American team at the Tokyo Olympics wasn’t so good this year. “The only good man you have is Bob Hayes,” said Delecour.

It was pretty arrogant of Delecour to diss Drayton, who captured the silver medal in the 200 meters only a few days before. But the truth of the matter was, the men’s relay team was in disarray. Both Mel Pender, who ran in the 100-meter finals, and Trent Jackson who made it to the semi-finals, were both injured and unavailable, as explained in this post.

Fortunately, substitutions were allowed, so joining Hayes and Gerry Ashworth were Drayton, who had pulled a muscle during the 200-meter finals, and Dick Stebbins, who was another 200-meter sprinter, and fortunately, healthy and ready to run.

When Bob Hayes won the 100-meter finals on October 15, the men’s relay team had to be cobbled together, according to Hayes in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run. Running is one thing, but passing the baton requires precision timing and coordination, which often comes from weeks if not months of practice. Hayes’ team had five days. When Delecour watched the American practice, he was not impressed.

The entire 4×100 competition consisted of three rounds. In the first round, when Stebbins handed the baton to the anchor, Hayes was able to make up the yard he was behind, and finish ahead of the German team, for an overall time of 39.8. Despite the high expectations for the Americans, they could not surpass the World record or even the Olympic record.

Later that day, the American team faced off against the French in the semi-finals. When Hayes received the baton, he was behind again, this time two yards to Delecour. But no matter – Hayes turned on the jets and blew past the French sprinter, setting a team time of 39.5 seconds, which at least matched the Olympic record.

The finals of the 4×100 relay was the next day, October 21. When Hayes ran the individual 100-meter sprint a few days earlier, he ended up in lane one, which was so chewed up by race walkers who had just left the stadium that Hayes fumed at his unfortunate luck. This time, the American’s got lane seven. Psychologically, the Americans needed every break they could get. The pain in Drayton’s leg was bad, and he told his teammates, “Guys, if my leg holds up, I’ll just give you everything I have.”

When the gun went off, Drayton ran the first curve, falling two yards behind the Polish relay team when the baton was passed to Ashworth. The Dartmouth student ran the straightaway effectively, but the baton exchange between Ashworth and Stebbins was not so effective. When Stebbins finally accelerated out of the passing lane, the Americans were in fifth!

Avery Brundage awards gold medals to Drayton Ashworth Stebbins and Hayes
Avery Brundage awards gold medals to Drayton Ashworth Stebbins and Hayes

Stebbins, who like Hayes, had a career in the NFL, ran a strong leg around the second curve. For whatever reason, Stebbins handed the baton to Hayes towards the beginning of the handoff lane, which meant Hayes had nearly ten more meters to run. But if you’re going to have anyone run an extra ten, it should be the fastest man in the world.

When Hayes received the baton, he was behind half the field. But within 30 meters of the anchor leg, Hayes had flown past the Jamaicans, the Russians and the Poles. Another 30 meters later, he blew past Delecour. When Hayes broke the tape, he threw the baton wildly into the air. The Americans set a world record of 39 seconds flat.

The people who witnessed that race say Hayes’ leg was the fastest anyone had ever run. Even today, people debate whether Hayes’ split in the 4×100 in Tokyo was the fastest ever. Some told Hayes he ran 8.4. Others said 8.6. According to this article in speedendurance.com, Hayes’ time was the fastest split with a running start ever:

1.       8.5 (hand time), Bob Hayes, 1964 Tokyo Olympics

2.       8.85, Carl Lewis, 1992 Barcelona Olympics

3.       8.71, Usain Bolt, 2010 Penn Relays

4.       8.70, Asafa Powell, 2008 Beijing Olympics

5.       8.70, Usain Bolt, 2012 London Olympics

And Hayes did it on a cinder track, not the synthetic tracks of today that likely play significantly faster than the tracks of 1964.

As Stebbins said in this Sports Illustrated article, “On my last steps, I was really moving — and Hayes only was in his 12th or 13th stride. But I could feel the force of him about to explode. One more step and he’d had been out of my reach. In 10 yards, he was going as fast as I was after 110. He (Hayes) ran that final 110 yards in 8.4 seconds. Unbelievable. He made up all the distance and won going away. Just to have won under the circumstances would have been superb. But to annihilate ’em was out of the question.”

Gold medalist Drayton walked into the waiting area, the spot before going onto the field where the winners would get their medals. When Drayton spotted the French team, which finished second, he walked up to the captain, and said, “Mr. Delecour, I tried to tell you that Bob Hayes was all we needed.”

Bob Hayes_The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics_1
Bob Hayes, from the book The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics

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.

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Receiving his gold medal for the 100 -meters finals, from the book, The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics

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.”

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Bob Hayes (5) winning the US Track Trials in_Los Angeles_Pathe

It’s simple physics. The fastest you run, the harder it is to turn suddenly. And when you’re built like a freight train, as Bob Hayes was, and the track began curving just at the end of the 100-meter finish line, you either have to turn that curve at top speed, or head straight into a brick wall.

Hayes wasn’t at Rutgers to study physics. It was June 27, 1964, and he was competing in the national championships of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in New Jersey. Hayes was already anointed Olympic champion in the 100 meters by prognosticators, months before the start of the Games. But he still had to qualify for the US track team heading to Tokyo.

At that time, there were two trials to be held – one in Randall’s Island, NY in July, and the other a couple of months later in Los Angeles, California. But first, Hayes had to negotiate a curve in New Jersey. At the 60-meter mark, Hayes felt a twinge in his left thigh, so he eased up. He still won the race, but he was bearing hard on the brick wall, so he stumbled around the curve, slowing down to a limp.

Bob Hayes with Henry Carr at the US Olympic Trials in LA
Bob Hayes with Henry Carr at the US Olympic Trials in LA_AP_September 9, 1964

Hayes headed right to the training room, got prone face down on the table, and understood fairly quickly, as his trainer picked and probed his leg, that something was wrong. It was indeed a pulled hamstring.

Only 75 days from the Olympics, his hammie had let him down. But Hayes thought that he did not have 75 days to heal. He had only a little over a week to heal before the first Olympic track trials were held during the July 4th weekend. And heal, he did not. At the end of the two-day track trials at Randall’s Island, Hayes could only watch and grimace in pain, both physical and psychological. The flash from Florida had to wait, wondering whether the powers that be would grant him an exception so that he can participate in the second trial in Los Angeles.

The US men’s track coach, Bob Giegengack, strolled alongside Hayes, making small talk, before saying, “We voted to advance you to Los Angeles, Bob.”

So Bullet Bob, dodged a bullet, as it were.

Hayes’ hamstring improved, but he only dared to train with light jogging. And when mid-September and his date with destiny at the final track and field trials rolled around, Hayes was so nervous he could not sleep. He had gained ten pounds and he had yet to go full speed in the recuperation period since the AAU national championships.

And when he was on his way to the Coliseum, the stadium where the Olympic trials were being held, Hayes had a scare. He got in an elevator joined by discus throwers Al Oerter and Jay Silvester, as well as shot put thrower, Dallas Long. As Hayes explained in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, the three of them alone weighed nearly half a ton. The elevator refused to work, and so Hayes, in a hurry to get to his sprinting trials, was waiting nervously for nearly 10 minutes. The doors were eventually clawed open, so that Hayes could pull himself up three feet to get out, and then jogged to the stadium, negotiating highway traffic to the stadium and the trials in time.

Hayes made it in time. When he lined up to race, he saw sprinters whom he had beaten multiple times, but he did not know if his hamstring could take full speed. No time like the present.

When the gun went off, Hayes started somewhat tentatively. But nearly halfway through the race, the locomotive gathered steam. Once Hayes had the lead, it continued to grow. The Bullet blazed to victory in 10.1 seconds.

Thanks to the coaches, Hayes was saved in Randall’s Island to live another day. And Hayes paid back his coaches’ faith in him by drubbing the field. Hayes was headed for Tokyo.

 

Watch Hayes victory in Los Angeles at the 11 second mark of this video.

 

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Mel Pender in outermost lane, and Bob Hayes in innermost lane at the 100-meter finals of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

American sprinter, Trent Jackson, easily won his 100-meter heat at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Mel Pender qualified with ease. Jackson won his quarter0final heat as well, while Pender tied for first in his, and thus they both made the top 16, and joined favorite, Bob Hayes, in the semi-final heats.

For some reason, Jackson had his worst time, and did not come close to making the final 8. Pender finished fourth in his semi-final heat, barely qualifying for the finals. And he looked ugly in the process, tumbling to the cinder track in pain. Bob Hayes noted in his autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, that Pender was carted off on a stretcher.

As Pender reveals in his autobiography, Expression of Hope – The Mel Pender Story, he had torn muscles around his rib cage, which created intense pain when he ran. How did he get the injury? It’s one of those inexplicable things you hear every so often – meaningless horseplay. Pender told me that he and his friend, Trent Jackson, were “messing around…when he punched me in the stomach. We were just messing around, but it caused some internal bleeding. This was right after the first race and before the semi finals.”

He said that a doctor had given him injections to kill the pain, and advised Pender not to run. On the verge of the 100-meter finals to declare the fastest man in the world, there was no way Pender was going to disqualify himself just because he was in pain around the chest. In fact, when Hayes said to Pender, “Hey shorty, you’re just going to watch my behind,” Pender put on a brave face, and replied, “better watch mine.”

According to Hayes, he went up to Pender in lane 8 just before the start of the finals and said, “‘Mel, I ain’t saying good luck to nobody to beat me, but I hope I finish first and you finish second. ‘Mel turned to me and said, ‘I’m finishing first and you finish second.’ Mel and I both knew he didn’t have a chance because of the his injury, and he showed fantastic courage just by running with the pain he had.”

Mel Pender injured
Mel Pender collapsing at the end of the semi-finals of the 100-meter competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics_from the collection of Mel Pender

So Pender ran. Stationed in the outside lane, Pender shot out of the blocks. But all attention quickly shifted to the innermost lanes where Bob Hayes and Enrique Figuerola were pulling away. Of course, as you can see in this video, Hayes continues to pull away to win the gold, tying the world and Olympic records of 10 seconds flat.

Pender finished in sixth. According to a October 20, 1964 article in the US Military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, the Army sergeant was devastated.

I promised my wife and daughter I’d bring them home a gold medal. If there would have been more time between the semi-finals and the finals of the 100, I think I could have won it. In the last run I just couldn’t get that little kick. I was in front of Jerome (Harry Jerome of Canada) and Figuerola (Enrique Figuerola, Cuba) at about 70 meters mark when the pain got so bad that I lost stride and didn’t know if I could make it to the finish line.

Pender was quoted as saying that he hoped his coach would allow him to run in the 4×100 meter relay, which I believe would have been unlikely the condition he was in. “I’d run from here (the hospital in Tachikawa) to the Olympic Village if they’ll just give me the opportunity to compete.”