Larry James at the 1968 Penn Relays
The 1968 Penn Relays are most famous for being the event that Larry James, the late, great "Mighty Burner" made history, when he became the first man in history to cover a quarter-mile in under 44 seconds, anchoring the victorious Villanova mile relay in an astounding 43.9 split for the full quarter-mile. James' time, when rounded down to 400 meters is still considered the fastest split in relays history, faster than two-time Olympic 400 meter gold medalist and current world record holder Michael Johnson!
Here's how Sports Illustrated described it at the time:
Although no one at Villanova had announced officially that the Wildcats were going for the big five, when they did try it was about as surprising as H.H.H.'s announcement that he was going to run for president. Even so, winning five relays in one meet is like having five aces in your hand in a game of five-card stud: it isn't possible. Or, at least, that is what everyone said. But Jumbo Elliott, the always-smiling Villanova coach, had a supercard up his sleeve. In fact, he had three—Larry James, Frank Murphy and Dave Patrick.
James, the slim sprinter from White Plains, N.Y., who was only No. 2 on his high school's mile-relay team, recorded the fastest 440 ever run when he anchored the mile-relay team to a 3:06.1 with a startling 43.9 leg. The mile relay was the final event of the marathon two-day meet and, although James had run three 440s in the previous 24 hours, he had saved sufficient energy for the grand finale. When he received the baton he was five yards behind Rice's Dale Bernauer, a fine quarter-miler, but that didn't seem to have much effect on James. "He's the mighty burner!" a teammate shouted. "Watch him cook."
A graceful, floating runner whose feet never seem to touch the ground, James caught Bernauer, flowed past him on the backstretch and went on to win by 12 yards. His time is not a world record, since it was made on a relay leg, but it was almost a full second faster than Tommie Smith's 44.8 world mark. After the race James was mobbed by teammates, friends and well-wishers, and by the time he made it into the locker room he confessed, "I'm not used to this. This fame is all new to me."Later on in 1968, James won a silver medal in the 400m dash, and a gold medal in the 4x400 meters at the Mexico City Olympics. In addition to his two titles won at the 1968 Penn Relays, James would go on to win four more Penn Relays watches over his final two years in college.