Friday, October 21, 2011

43 Years Ago This Week: Larry James Wins Two Olympic Medals (With Video)

The 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City featured one of the most exhilarating (and important) track and field competitions of all time. This Olympics was famous because it marked the first time in an Olympic Games that fully automatic timing was available to measure performances, it was also the beginning of the era of African (Kenyan) dominance in middle distant running and there were several world records set in Mexico City that would have staggering longevity.

There is also a notable Villanova subtext to this Olympics. 1968 tied the 1956 Olympics for the greatest medal haul in school history and the six Villanova track athletes who represented the school in at those Olympics was the most as well. 

In the 110m hurdles, Erv Hall ran faster than the previous world record in the event only to lose to fellow American Willie Davenport who shattered the previous record by over a tenth of a second.

In the 400m dash, Larry James, also known as "The Mighty Burner" made a furious charge to the line to challenge a tiring Lee Evans for gold, but he was unable to catch up, finishing with the silver to Evans' world record time. Countryman Ron Freeman completed a USA sweep in the event by finishing third. James' time of 43.97s was faster than the previous world record, stood as the second fastest time ever run until 1988 and James remains the ninth fastest man of all time at the event and is still one of only nine men (all of them Americans) to go under 44 seconds at the event, a feat that no one accomplished in 2011.

James would get a gold medal in the 4x400m relay when he set a world record along with Vincent Matthews, Freeman and Evans. Despite a somewhat lackluster first leg by Matthews, who would become an individual Olympic champion in 1972, a torrid second leg by Freeman along James' extremely fast third leg asssured a world record by the time that the baton was handed to Evans, who powered home to shatter the existing world record by over three seconds. The time of 2:56.16 seconds would not be broken for 24 years and remains the seventh fastest time ever run and the fifth fastest ever run at the Olympics.

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