Between now and the start of the Games there will be quiet periods between the action. One of the things I’d like to do during the down times is share some of my memories of the Olympics. In most cases I will look at individuals or individual races, so today I’m going to start with my first major memory of the Games – Eddie Hart & Rey Robinson in Munich (’72).
I started out as a sprint fan, in large part because my dad was a sprint fan, and I watched the ’68 Games with him, and there were sizzling sprints! But I remember them mostly as highlights as I didn’t really sit down to watch all of the other events and sports while waiting for the finals of the sprints to be shown. So I would get called to the TV in time to catch the finals – and they were pretty awesome. By ’72, however, I was completely hooked on the sport to the point where I was watching every available minute on television.
So of course I’d already watched the Trials and the 9.9 to 9.9 WR finish of Eddie Hart & Rey Robinson in Eugene. And as a young fan I just “knew” that another WR was in store in Munich – and I knew that Hart would be the one to do it. So when the Games arrived and it was time for the quarterfinals of the men’s 100 I was glued to the TV (this was the “olden” days and there was no DVR or even VHS) waiting for Hart, Robinson, and Robert Taylor to move through to the semis. Except while we were waiting and watching other events, we were told that the U.S. sprinters weren’t out on the warm up track – and that a search was on for the missing sprinters!
This being the Olympics the entire world was watching, so every TV in Munich had the Games on, so when the three sprinters, who happened to be in downtown Munich chilling, walked by a local store they took a peak at what they thought was a replay of the first round. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they were watching the other sprinters warm up for the start of the quarterfinals – and they weren’t there! So, as the story was told, they hailed a cab and hightailed it over to the Olympic stadium.
To make what became a very long story – told over and over on television – short, by the time they arrived and went through protocol only Taylor was in time to contest his race, which was in the final heat. World Record holders Hart & Robinson could only watch in amazement as Taylor moved through alone to the semifinals, and eventually to the silver medal position on the podium behind Soviet Valery Borzov. The reason given for the mishap was that the sprint coach was carrying an old schedule and changes had been made – changes that moved the time of the quarterfinals.
That said, Borzov would go on to win the 200 as well, setting up a 4×1 showdown with the American sprinters. Unfortunately Robinson was not a member of the 4×1 team, having been replaced by 200 man Larry Black on lead off, but Hart was waiting on anchor for his shot at the Olympic champion. The squad passed superbly (we used to do that) and Eddie Hart ran like a man possessed, flying down the track with Borzov in tow. Hart crossed the line in a new WR 38.19 and for the next half decade Black-Taylor-Tinker-Hart was the gold standard of relay running and emblazoned in my mind. For years afterwards my friends and I argued as to what would have happened had Hart & Robinson made their quarterfinals on time – I insisted that Hart would have run away with it!.
I’ve seen a lot of Olympic races since then, but the missed quarterfinals are my first real memory of the Games. For those of you too young to remember, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were global rivals at everything, including sports. So to have this tragedy happen AND to have a Soviet win their first ever gold medal in the sprints was just a horrible thing for a young kid in the early 70’s. Not to mentioned that I never dreamed in a million years that one of our WR holders wouldn’t win the race! That was just IMPOSSIBLE! So in addition to having my dreams shattered – I just knew Hart was going to run 9.8 and win that gold medal – I learned that the impossible can and does happen. Lessons like that sort of stick with you.
So my first real memory of the Olympics wasn’t of victory, but of improbable defeat – defeat and redemption – because there was something inspiring and exciting about that 4×1 squad, so much so that they are still one of my all-time favorites. Black – Taylor – Tinker – Hart, 38.19. They were my 4×1 heroes.