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.”

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Mel Pender Bob Hayes_1964 100 meter finals
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.”