Ralph Boston_Tokyo 1964_from his collection
Ralph Boston and his winning leap at the 1964 Tokyo 1964 Olympics, from his collection

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October to avoid the heat and the typhoons of summer. Unfortunately, except for the beautiful Autumn weather of Opening Day, most of the two weeks of the Olympiad were wet and chilly.

On October 18, the day of the men’s long jump finals, it was 13.5 °C (56.3 °F) and it rained hard all day. According to reigning Olympic champion, Ralph Boston, “It was really coming down. The weather was raw. The air was heavy with moisture and it was just tough.”

And then, there was the wind. The way the long jump was set up for the finals, the wind blew directly into the faces of the athletes as they ran down the runway towards the sand pit. Boston observed that the long jump area was designed to go in either direction, with sand pits at both ends of the runway. In the morning during the qualifier, they ran in one direction, but in the afternoon for the finals, the officials flipped the direction. “I remember asking the official from Netherlands in charge, whether we could turn this around and run the other way, but he said we couldn’t do that,” Boston told me.

Of the 32 competitors who started that day, only 12 qualified for the finals. In those first three jumps, the Soviet favorite, Igor Ter-Ovanesyan had the longest leap at 7.78 meters. The group narrowed to six competitors, and as the day got longer, Boston recognized the day as a war of attrition – no one was going to hit anything close to world record levels. “I don’t think anyone will jump eight meters today,” said Boston to one of his teammates.

Lynn Davies and Ralph Boston
Lynn Davies and Ralph Boston in 1964

Lynn Davies, the 22-year-old Welshman representing Great Britain, overheard Boston’s remark, and found himself re-energized.

Davies told the BBC that up to that moment he had looked up to Boston and Ter-Ovanesyan as unbeatable competitors. “They were my heroes. But when I heard Ralph say that I realized the conditions were tough for them too and I thought I had a chance because I’d jumped eight meters back home in Wales in similar conditions.”

At the end of four rounds, Boston was in the lead with a jump of 7.88 meters. As Davies gathered himself for his fifth attempt, he took three deep breaths, his face set in a scowl of concentration. Lynn launched himself down the runway, flew through the air, and hit the sand just right so that he was able to pop right up. Lynn was impassive as he walked out of the pit, but when the scoreboard flashed 8.07 meters, he brought his hands to his head in a mixture of joy and disbelief.

Boston had fouled his fifth attempt, but he had one more chance. He had fallen behind, not just Davies but also Ter-Ovanesyan, whose leap of 7.99 put him in second place. Perhaps because Davies had shown that 8 meters was not insurmountable that day, Boston charged down the runway with his best leap of the finals – 8.03 meters. The American overtook the Soviet, but could not overtake the new Olympic champion, dubbed in the British press as Lynn The Leap.

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Ralph Boston, Lynn Davies, Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, 1964 Olympics (Asahi Shinbun) public domain

Boston won the silver medal, and told the BBC that Davies deserved the gold.

It was rainy, rainy, rainy. When it rained in America I tried not to go out in it so I wasn’t prepared for it. It was one of the most horrendous days I’ve ever competed in. But I always said it behooved a champion to take advantage of whatever’s there and that’s what you [Davies] did and all the best to you for doing it.

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Ralph Boston in Rome.

Ralph Boston was a sprightly kid who loved football. And as a high school track star in Laurel, Mississippi, Boston got scholarship offers to play football. But as he explained in this interview, his mother knew best. “I actually became a long jumper by accident. I wanted to play football. My mother didn’t like that. Back in those days, mom prevailed. So I went to college to run.”

That turned out to be a golden decision. Offered a track scholarship, Boston enrolled at Tennessee A&I, now known as Tennessee State University, famous for the women’s track team lovingly called the Tigerbelles. The Tigerbelles sent 7 athletes to the 1960 Rome Olympics, yielding an incredible 6 gold medals among them.

Ralph Boston’s trading card.

Boston was no slouch either, having set a world record in the long jump only weeks before the start of the Rome Olympiad. In fact, he broke Jesse Owen‘s mark, one that stood for 25 years. Boston was definitely a favorite to break Owen’s Olympic record from the 1936 Berlin Games, and take gold home as well. And yet, it was Boston’s first Olympics, and he was intimidated.

It was probably the scariest day of my life – 1960 in Rome, September 2nd. I’d never seen that many people before in my life. The stadium had something like 85,000.

His teammate Bo Roberson, and Soviet jumper, Igor Ter-Ovanesyan were also gunning for gold, but they knew they had to best Boston to get it.

Boston’s first leap in the broad jump finals was decent at 7.82 meters (25’ 8”), but Ter-Ovanesyan,the Soviet favorite, was better at 7.90 (25’ 11”). Boston fouled on his second leap while his teammate set the Olympic record with a leap of 8.03 meters (26”4 ¼”). That must have gotten Boston’s motor running. As David Maraniss described in his book, Rome 1960, Boston made sure not to foul again.

Returning to the infield, he took his position at the end of the runway, 100 feet from the takeoff point. He had already fixed his spots precisely with the steel tape measure. One deep breath, relax, four loping strides – free and loose to unlimber his body – and then he was at full speed, trying to clear his head of all but a few key thoughts. First the starting mark. He had to spring into the air as close as possible behind it,but not go over into the narrow putty forestrip and get disqualified. Speeding down the runway for this final jump in Rome, he felt something slightly amiss and had to adjust his stride just before takeoff. Once airborne, he tried to concentrate on bringing his feet back within 10 or 12 inches of each other for the landing. Not perfect.

As Boston recalled in this interview, he didn’t think much of the jump.

When I landed, I thought it was a terrible jump.   out of the pit as I normally do but I thought it was a terrible jump.When I saw the distance (26 feet 7 3/4 inches or 8.12 meters) I was very happy with that. I won. I won!

Actually, he hadn’t won yet. He had indeed re-set the Olympic record, but there was still three more rounds to go. Boston fouled on his fifth leap and landed under 8 meters in his final leap, and was still in the lead, but he had to wait three others to take their final turn. The last to go was Roberson, who despite his heavily taped left leg with the balky hamstring, was a real threat to Boston’s dreams of gold.

Roberson accelerated, hit his spot and launched high into the air. Upon his teammate’s splash into the sand, Boston could not tell if he had won or not.  When the electronic scoreboard in Stadio Olimpico flashed the results, Boston saw that Roberson grabbed silver and Ter-Ovanesyan won bronze. Boston, somewhat surprised, somewhat relieved, had won Olympic gold.

Even more surprised was his mother, whose fateful decision to steer her son from football to track yielded results beyond her expectations.

“I didn’t have any idea that my baby’s jumping around would ever amount to anything,”said Eulalia Boston in Laurel to a UPI reporter. “This is the proudest day of my life.”

“Now that it’s all over, I think I’ll get me a glass of milk and lay down for a while.”

Ralph Boston and his winning leap in Rome, from his collection

Ralph Boston Performing Record Breaking Jump at Olympics
Ralph Boston

It was the evening of August 11, 1960. Ralph Boston had one of the best prime ribs he had ever had at steakhouse, Red Tracton’s, and was settling into a good night’s sleep before the United States track and field meet at Mt San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) in Los Angeles. This was the last tune up for American track and field athletes before the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Rooming with three-time Olympic triple jumper, Bill Sharpe, Boston engaged Sharpe in some pre-sleep braggadocio.

“At 10:30 I’m settling into bed and Phil is doing some exercises,” Boston told me. “I asked him what he was doing, and he said, ‘I’m preparing to break the record in the triple jump.’ I said, ‘OK. I tell you what. If you break the record, I’ll break the American record in the broad jump.’ He stared at me and said the American record is also the world record. I had no idea. I didn’t care. I went to sleep.”

August 12, 1960 went on to become a historic day in American track history as over 8,600 spectators at Mt SAC saw Americans break four world records – including John Thomas’ high jump of 2.18 meters (7’ 2”, Bill Nieder’s shot put throw of 20.06 meters (65’ 10”), and Hal Connolly’s hammer throw of 70.33 meters (230’ 9”).

The biggest world record to fall that day was one that had stood for over 25 years – Jesse Owen‘s long jump of 8.13 meters (26” 8 ¼”). And the record breaker was Ralph Boston, with a leap of 8.21 meters (26” 11 ¼”) that bettered his personal best by half a foot, and Owens’ record by three inches.

Boston had just turned 21 and he had outleapt a legend. The legend was humble. “I’m happy to see the record broken, and I’m just thankful that it stood up this long,” said triple gold medalist Owens to an AP reporter. “This shows that progress is being made in track and field. It also shows that youngsters have come along today much better than they did 25 years ago.”

Ralph Boston and Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens and Ralph Boston in Rome.

The youngster was not as prepared to face the press as the legend. “Jesse said it was all right to break it,” he told reporters that day. “He’s tired of it.”

The fact of the matter is, Boston didn’t know Owens and had never talked to him. As he admitted, he had just turned 21 that August. “I’m a neophyte. I don’t know what the heck is going on. And I’m trying to be what we call in the hood, ‘cool,'” but instead ended up sounding like a disrespectful kid.

When Boston arrived in Rome for the 1960 Olympics, and finally came face to face with America’s hero of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he was ashamed of his post-meet comments at Mt SAC. “I got on my knees, and said ‘I’m sorry.'”

But there was no denying it. Ralph Boston was now the favorite for gold in Rome, and was famous. Reporters asked him for interviews and passersby asked him for photos, including a GOAT to be.

On our way to Rome, after I broke Jesse’s record, we hung around LA, and we flew to NY to get processed and head to Rome. We pulled in front of the hotel, people were exiting, and this young man came up to me and said, “Ralph Boston. I want to shake your hand. I want to take your picture.” I asked him who he was, and he said, “You don’t know me. But you will. My name is Cassius Marcellus Clay.’ 

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TSU Olympic legends Ralph Boston and Wilma Rudolph hang out with Muhammad Ali during one of his visits to Tennessee State University. (TSU archives)

Mary Rand and Whillye White in the UK 2
Mary Rand and Whillye White in the UK

It was February 19, 1965, a few months after the Tokyo Olympic Games. A collection of international track stars, many fresh from medaling in Tokyo, gathered at Madison Square Garden in New York City for the AAU National Indoor Track Championships.

Billy Mills, the first and only American to win the gold in the 10,000 meters in the Olympics, won the three-mile race. In a rematch of the Tokyo Olympics men’s long jump, USSR’s Igor Ter-Ovesyan outdistanced America’s Ralph Boston. Tamara Press repeated as champion in the shot put. Iolanda Balas of Romania continued her dominance in the high jump. And Mary Rand was also in town.

But the women’s long jump champion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics faded quickly in Madison Square Garden, crashing out in the preliminary rounds by fouling two of her three jumps. The runway for the long jump did have a quirky quality: there were two take-off boards on the runway, the white indicators that tell the athlete exactly how far they can step before they launch themselves into the air. But she didn’t feel that was the reason for her poor performance, as she wrote in her autobiography, “Mary Mary“.

We were having problems because on the long jump approach there were two take-off boards very close to each other. You had to pass over the first one just before taking off, which was a bit distracting. I wasn’t jumping particularly well. In fact I was fed-up with my jumping more than irritated by the other board.

Mary Rand second stripe
Mary Rand jumping from the second take-off board. Click on the image to watch the actual video.

So Rand was in her hotel room when she heard a knocking on her door. It was American long jumper, Whillye White, silver medalist in the long jump at the 1956 Melbourne Games, and silver medalist in the 4X100 relay at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. White came to explain to Rand that she had protested the outcome of the preliminary round because the first take-off stripe should not have been on the track in the first place. White said to Rand that she had told officials that the first stripe upset her, and it must have upset the other competitors as well, and that she said Rand could join the other six in the finals.

I might have said something about it being “stupid” – but I would never have dreamed of protesting. I said I wouldn’t come back unless it was absolutely all right with all the other jumpers, because it did mean that I might go ahead and win. But Willye had already put it to all the other athletes, I was told, and they had all agreed.

So Rand returned, and she landed a jump of 20 feet 4 inches, over a foot shorter than her Olympic record in Tokyo, but good enough for first place in New York. Thanks to Whillye White!

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Naoto Tajima at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

There was a time when the Japanese were seen as great jumpers. In the years between the great world wars of the 20th century, Japanese men in particular were frequent medalists in the triple jump, long jump and pole vault. Shuhei Nishida won silver in the pole vault at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. Sueo Oe won bronze in the pole vault in 1936 as well.

Naoto Tajima won the gold medal in the triple jump in 1936, making it the third consecutive Olympics that a Japanese won the hop, skip and jump – Mikio Oda won it in 1928 in Amsterdam, while Chuhei Nambu took gold at the 1932 LA Games.

Tajima may have won gold in the triple jump, but he enjoyed his bronze medal in the long jump even more. He is said to have considered the triple jump just a simple matter of technique while the long jump was more of a profession, something requiring a more serious, in-depth approach. Perhaps also significantly, Tajima’s long jump competition at the 1936 Olympics was one of historical significance, not just in sports but also geo-politically.

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Bronze medalist Naoto Tajima, gold medalist Jesse Owens, and silver medalist, Luz Long at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, medal ceremony of the long jump competition.

Tajima took a relatively unnoticed bronze to Jesse Owens‘ gold and Luz Long‘s silver in the long jump. Owens had already won gold in the 100 meters, winning the title “fastest man in the world” in front of Adolph Hitler. A day later, on a day Owens would have to run a heat in the 200-meters race, he took on a strong German team in the long jump. In this oft-told tale, the battle for gold came down to Owens and Long. While Owens led throughout the competition, Long stayed close behind, as you can see in the round-by-round details here.

In the end, Owens won with a stunning 8.06 meter leap which set an Olympic record, and that Long could not match. Long put his arm around Owens after the American’s victory, creating an image worldwide that encouraged those who believed a world of peace and brotherhood was possible. But while we may forget there were other competitors, we should be reminded there was a third person on the medal stand – Naoto Tajima of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi.

His medal in the triple jump and the long jump at the 1936 Berlin Games were the last for a Japanese in Athletics, until Naoko Takahashi won the women’s marathon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

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Mary Rand, from the book, XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 Asahi Shimbun

“I went to Rome in 1960,” Mary Rand explained in this video interview. “I was favored to win the long jump there. Did one of the best qualifying jumps but in the finals I ran through the pit and everything went wrong. And so when we came back to England, the headlines were ‘Flop Flop Flop’. I kinda thought I’m going to pack it in.”

In 1960, Mary Rand was expected to win the gold medal in the women’s long jump, but the 20-year-old cracked under pressure in Rome, and came home to unwanted and unwarranted attention from the press. Here’s how The Times described the press reaction in 1960. “British athletes, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” wrote one newspaper over photographs of those deemed to have failed. Bignal (Rand’s maiden name) was the star failure.”

Rand thought she was done with athletics. After all, she was married with a small daughter. But the call of competition was strong, and Rand found herself preparing the Tokyo Games. When she qualified for the British Olympic Squad, and landed in Tokyo, she was four years older and wiser. And yet, the demons of past failure were still in her head.

In this wonderful profile Rand in the Sunday Times as a run-up to the 2000 Sydney Games, the writer describes a joyful Rand the night before her long jump competition, singing a lullaby she would sing to the daughter she left in London, refusing to allow her roommates to sleep.

“Mary, for crying out loud,” says Mary Peters from the next bed. Her roommates cannot be angry. She sings so beautifully and even now, so late at night, her effervescence bubbles. “I’ll teach you,” she says, “come on, ‘I ullowoost to halowav an alawold banjalawo’, try it.” And so in this small room at the 1964 Olympic Games, four British athletes serenade themselves to sleep.

Sleep? Singing brings them to life. “Mary, I’m going to bang a nail into the wall,” says [Ann] Packer, “and from it I’ll hang the medal you’re going to win. It’ll inspire us to get the other ones.” It’s just a bit of fun but Mary Rand shivers at the mention of winning.

But according to the writer, Rand does not want to sleep, for silence forces her to hear the voices of doubt in her head:

What are you going to do tomorrow Mary, flop like you did in Rome four years ago?”

Outside, Mary hears the rain fall, so loud it could be hailstones: “What will that do to the cinder track, Mary?” She hates not being able to control the voices.

Alone in the darkness, Mary talks to God. “Please,” she pleads, “let me do well tomorrow.

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Mary Rand, from the book XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 Asahi Shimbun

But as it turns out, the 24-year-old version of Rand was made of stronger stuff. In the video interview, Rand reflected on her attitude as she readied herself for the women’s long jump competition, and her refusal to allow her competitors to psych her out during the practice period.

The hardest thing in long jumping in the Olympics is everybody is trying to get their run-ups. The Russians. The Poles. They’re all pushing and shoving, you know? So you have to be pretty tough. I got a couple of jumps in. It was really cold and windy. It was a little nervewracking because in the back of your mind ‘Oh my gosh, this happened four years ago.’ And I know the press were thinking, ‘Is she going to fall apart again.’ And everything went right.

Rand did not run through her mark. She did not foul. She did not crash and burn. In fact, Rand dominated from start to finish in the six rounds of the finals. In the first round, she broke the Olympic record with a leap of 6.59 meters, 35 centimeters further than Diana Yorgova of Bulgaria. In the fifth round, she broke the spirit of all competitors with a world record jump of 6.76 meters.

Like many British and American athletes who were not used to the metric system, she had no idea what that meant in feet and inches. The world record at that time was 21 ft 11.75 in so she had to dig into her bag for the meter to fee conversion table to learn that she became the first woman ever to exceed 22 feet – 22 feet 2 1/4 inches to be exact.

A star was born.

 

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Ann Packer and Mary Rand with their gold medals

Even the Queen of England was impressed.

After the completion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Queen Elizabeth had lunch with hundreds of Olympians from TeamGB a few days after their return from Japan, and was most taken with Mary Rand, the sensational triple medalist. Rand won gold in the women’s long jump, silver in the pentathlon and bronze as a member of the women’s 4X100 relay team, leading a resurgence in British track and field.

The Queen is reported to have measured out 22 feet, 2 inches (6.76 meters), the length of Rand’s world record jump that resulted in Great Britain’s first gold of the Tokyo Olympics. According to an October 28, 1964 AP article, the Queen told her son, Prince Andrew, that was the length Rand jumped to win the gold. “‘He just couldn’t believe that anyone could jump that far,’ the queen laughingly told Mrs. Rand at a buffet lunch at the palace Tuesday.”

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Mary Rand with daughter

Not that I am expert on the British Royal Family, but clearly the Queen was taken with Rand. To be fair, many were. She was not only an Olympic champion, she was also perceived as wholesome (with a dash of sensuality). In 1964, she was married and had a daughter and had a reputation for being “nice”, which back then was more positive in nuance. But she also drew the attention of famous rock and rollers. “Apparently Mick Jagger said he’d like to date me,” she says (in this Mirror article). “I wish he’d asked! But then again I was married to my first husband at the time and the mother of a young daughter.”

Here is how Olympic observer, Neil Allen described Rand in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964:

An Italian journalist gave a melting look at the long legs and swinging hips as Mary walked across the grass, then surveyed again the world-record long jump on the indicator board and reluctantly handed me back my binoculars, misty by now. He shook his head in amazement and pronounced the accolade, “All that and a mother too!’

If it was the sheer femininity that struck first, next must come the almost effortless superiority of Mary Rand. Under the pressure of modern sport no British man or woman has ever won an Olympic victory with such authority. Here at last was our Elliott, our Zatopek, our Wilma Rudolph. Our goddess of the arena.

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Mary Rand in Kimono with Ann Packer

The somewhat sexist comments of the era aside, Mary Rand had a rare combination of grace, power and independence that made her arguably one of the most popular women in Tokyo. Her willingness to speak her mind and not to follow the norm may have also intrigued people.

When she was 17 years old, she developed a relationship with young man from Thailand living in England, nearly marrying much to the chagrin of those around her. The “scandal” of this relationship resulted in her being expelled from school.

When she was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, she worked at the postal office in a Guinness factory in London, which fortunately gave her the opportunity to both earn wages and train for the Olympics. And one time, her involuntary need to tell jokes got her in a little trouble: She said in the Mirror article: “One of the benefits I got there was a free Guinness in the work’s canteen at lunchtime. I jokingly told a reporter I had a half pint every day as part of my training routine. The next thing I knew there were headlines about my drinking and I got a long lecture from my coach about putting on weight.”

But Allen wrote in his book that people found Rand’s openness charming:

There are few athletes easier to interview for she is completely honest. And her great sense of fun never allows her to have a moment’s conceit about all her ability in so many events. In her greatest moment of all, in the Olympic interview room, she still had time to grin at the incredulous look on the continental journalist’s face when she said she’d ‘had a rub from Johnny’ just before the long jump. Johnny Johnson is, of course, the dedicated masseur to the British athletics team. To Mary, as always ‘life is a bit of a giggle.’

There was definitely something about Mary.

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The 1960s was a period of intense competition between Puma and adidas, fueled by the sibling rivalry of the two brothers who ran the respective companies, Rudolph Dassler and Adolph (Adi) Dassler. The more images of champion athletes wearing their shoes appeared in the media, the more revenue poured in. And the easiest way to get superstar athletes to wear their shoes were cash payments of thousands of dollars.

At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Armin Hary of Germany set the Olympic record in the 100 meters in Pumas, after having worn adidas in previous heats. On the podium, Hary switched back to Adidas.

Bob Beamon shocked himself and the world when he lept 8.90 meters (29 ft 2.5 in) at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. That was 55 cm (nearly 22 inches) better than the previous world record.

My assumption today is that high performance athletes are particularly fussy about their foot gear. According to the book Golden Kicks: The Shoes that Changed Sport, by Jason Coles, Beamon had always trained and competed in adidas shoes. But Mexico City during the Olympics was a fierce battle ground between Puma and Adidas.

Track groupie, Art Simburg, buddies to the Speed City sprinters of San Jose State College, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, was also a sweet-talking marketer for Puma. Simburg was able to “convince” many athletes to switch to Pumas in Mexico City, including Beamon.

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So when Beamon made the long jump finals, prior to that massive jump, he did so in Pumas.

But in a switch that was becoming less and less uncommon, Beamon slipped on a pair of adidas shoes, and launched himself into the history books with a record leap that stood for 23 years. And the shoes that shine in all of those pictures of Beamon’s gigantic jump – the one with the three red stripes of adidas.

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Jarrion Lawson

Jarrion Lawson lept into the Brazilian night and landed in the sand, confident he had gold in his grasp. He was certain he exceeded his American teammate, Jeff Henderson, who was in first with a jump of 8.38 meters. When Lawson’s mark was revealed, he was astonished to see his leap recorded as 8.25 meters. Lawson not only lost the gold, he failed to medal, falling to fourth place behind Luvo Manyonga of South Africa and Greg Rutherford of Great Britain.

Lawson, in the follow through, had apparently grazed the sand with the fingers of his left hand before his feet landed. While Henderson was thrilled with his victory as he trotted along the track wrapped in his nation’s flag, he could see his teammate in the throes of agony. Such is life in the cut-throat world of athletic competitions measured in hundredths of centimeters or seconds under the microscope of digital recordings.

It must have been what Hungarian swimmer, Katinka Hosszu felt when American Maya DiRado touched the wall .04 seconds earlier in the 200-meter backstroke finals. It must have been what Chad Le Clos or László Cseh felt when they tied Michael Phelps for second, losing to Singaporean Joseph Schooling in the 100-meter butterfly finals, as they all finished at exactly 51.14 seconds. But at least they got to share silver.

Shaunae Miller and Allyson Felix
Shaunae Miller and Allyson Felix

And perhaps, more painfully, it must have been what 4-time gold medalist, Allyson Felix felt when she hit the tape at the end of the 400-meter sprint finals, only to see Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas dive over the line, her hands, wrists and ultimately her shoulder hitting the finish line earlier than Felix’s torso.

Jim McKay, the late, great host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, began his show by explaining his show’s raison d’etre: to deliver sports that showed “the human drama of athletic competition”, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”

The thrill for one often comes at the agony of the other. That’s why we love the Olympics.

Jesse Owens at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, from the book
Jesse Owens at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

It’s hard to believe, but there has never been a major film on Jesse Owens. Eighty years after Owens’ monumental achievements at the Berlin Summer Games in 1936, the film, Race, will be coming to a theater near you.

During the Tokyo Summer Games fifty one years ago, Owens was asked to write a daily column for the Newark Star Ledger offering his memories from the Berlin Games, as well as his thoughts on the athletes and events of the 1964 Games. In his October 11, 1964 column, he wrote about a moment when he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Forget the competition. Run your own race. Don’t look at the people who’re watching you. Just do your best and be satisfied, win or lose. I always followed that creed too, and I think it helped me to become a better athlete and a better man. I always followed it – except once. That one I didn’t compete just as Jesse Owens, or just me as an American. That one day I ran as a Negro.”

Jesse Owens went on to write how he was feeling the pressure of representing his race, and fouled in his first two attempts at the long jump trials. Then a reporter asked Owens if he thought the German refs were purposely calling foul and how Hitler was reported to have bad mouthed Owens.

“Since that day, I’ve told thousands of boys that I just turned the other cheek – and that that’s what they should do when those things come up. But that day, that minute, I really couldn’t forget it. Not just as a Negro, but as a human being, it hurt me in that place you can’t put medicine.”

That’s when the athlete from Oakville, Alabama decided to draw a line in the sand…literally. In order to ensure that he didn’t foul, Owens marked a line a foot before the launching point, and easily won the trial, which helped Owens to continue his journey to gold and Olympic glory.

Below is the trailer for Race. This highly anticipated film is scheduled for release on February 19, 2016. When it does, don’t walk…race to your local theater.