So he went to Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kans. "I got hurt in high school because I never trained," he says. "I missed an NCAA scholarship because I never studied. If I'd won four in the state meet, I'd have thought that was the way to do it. But things happen for a reason. The obstacles let me know that life is what you make it."
Butler coach John Francis bent him to six-mile cross-country runs, a weight-training regimen and repeated, long intervals. All had the same objective: to give him the strength and stamina to carry his native speed through his race's second 200. Reynolds responded with a 45.47 to win the 1984 junior college nationals and reached the semifinals of the 400 at the '84 Olympic trials.
That fall, because of tight family finances, he got a late start in school, never caught up, and spent the year on academic probation. "My dad had lost his job," he says. "But then we decided to turn our lives around."
Butch was a bear in summer school in 1985. When it was over, he had his associate degree in business and marketing and his pick of track scholarships (and Harry Sr. soon found a new job with Polysar Rubber in Akron). Alabama and Florida State were warm and inviting. Ohio State offered Ohio winters and a football school that had nurtured three top sprinters in 50 years: Owens in 1933-'36, Mai Whitfield (the 1948 and '52 Olympic 800 champ) and Glenn Davis (the '56 and '60 gold medalist over the 400-meter hurdles).
Reynolds chose Ohio State. "The OSU degree in education will be meaningful," he says dutifully, for that is only half of it. Butler coach Francis had told him, "You are going to break Lee Evans's record. You are from Ohio. So go back there and do it. They'll love you for it." If the Buckeyes didn't have a lively track program, Reynolds would simply try to lift one about him by force of example. Yet again he had to wait. He ran 45.36 in 1986, but a hamstring strain ended his season in May.
Healed by late summer, Reynolds got to thinking how he had only one life to live, and he did an interesting thing. He told his coaches to get serious. "They were too laid-back," he says now. "I told them. 'You've got to get on the ball. I'm a winner. This team can be a winner, too, but you've got to come along.' "
OSU head coach Frank Zubovich says his ensuing leadership was no different than it had been in past years. Reynolds says things did change for the better. They're probably both right, because Reynolds put in near-perfect off-season training, Zubovich learned not to work him hard on the Mondays after meets, and in May, at the Jesse Owens Classic in Columbus, Reynolds burned one clean lap in 44.10. As if that weren't sufficient shock, the Ohio Stadium clock read, unofficially, 43.78.
"I knew I hadn't run that fast," says Reynolds. "I stumbled a little at the start. Then I made up ground too fast. So I eased some, and then made a move in the last 100. My brother Jeff said, 'You had three gears that day.' " His 44.13 at the NCAAs in June in Baton Rouge and 44.15 in July in London came harder but were still faster than anyone else has run since 1968. "I didn't have that 'easy race' feeling," says Reynolds, "so I know I can go faster."
Reynolds's style of quarter-miling is not simply a display of pure speed. It's a show of rangy economy and intelligent pace in the first 200, then a greedy closing kick that very few have had.
"How do I avoid riggin' up?" asks Reynolds, employing basic quarter-miler talk in reference to how your muscles turn to fiberglass at the 300-meter mark. "It's as if I know I'm tired, but when there are people with me, guys in my peripheral vision, I just have to leave 'em. Sometimes when I hear 'em, I try too hard. In the NCAAs I ran a step or two out of my lane because I wasn't able to handle all the force I came up with."