Tommie Smith was slouched in the front seat, holding a Polaroid Big Swinger, an Instamatic M-14 movie camera and a three-foot-high trophy, all of which he had just won running in the Coliseum-Compton Invitational Track Meet. The rented convertible stopped for a light at the intersection of Hoover Street and Venice Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles. "Hey, cats, look at that car," Smith said to John Carlos and Lee Evans, who were riding with him. They looked and saw—not a Ferrari, not even a Cadillac—a Volkswagen.
"You crackin' up?" asked Evans.
"No, look there at that license plate," said Smith. "Look at it. Lovely. 'WIN 221.' I'm gonna get me one that says 'WIN 220' and stick it on my Chevy and ain't no one gonna ever take it off. Got to love it."
"Hold it just a minute," Carlos said. "If I'm lyin' I'm flyin', but you didn't win no 220 tonight, did you, man? Nope, you didn't." The light changed and the Volkswagen moved away, and Smith began to laugh. " Carlos," he said, "why don't you quit buggin' me?"
Smith, Carlos and their Santa Clara Youth Village running mates—particularly Billy Gaines, Kirk Clayton and Jerry Williams—bugged the Coliseum-Compton meet all Friday night. True, Smith, who holds the world record for the 220-yard dash, did not win the 220. But there was no 220 scheduled. Instead, Tommie won an Olympic-distance 200-meter dash—a race exactly 46 inches shorter than 220 yards—and moved one up (three to two) in his grudge duel with Jim Hines of the Houston Striders. Smith also anchored the Youth Village's 440-yard relay team to an unexpected victory over USC's experienced world-record quartet that had not lost in more than a year.
The night, though, did not start that well for Santa Clara. In the 100-meter dash Carlos, running at full speed after a two-month setback with a pulled hamstring muscle, was clocked at 10.3 along with Ronnie Ray Smith of San Jose State and Hines. It looked as though Carlos was there first, and he was accepting congratulations when it was announced that Hines was the winner and Carlos had been placed third. It was not until the weekly meeting of the Southern California Track and Field Writers' Association on Monday, in fact, that meet officials got the places all sorted out. After examining news photos and television films, they awarded first to Carlos.
At the time, however, John protested the decision with a certain vehemence. "Man, them cats jived me," he said, "just like they jived Tommie last week. You see, we're all with the boycott, man, and they ain't givin' us nuthin'."
The previous week at San Diego, Hines, who does not advocate the proposed boycott of the Olympics, and Smith both were timed in 20.3 for the 220, and Hines was declared the winner. Smith asked the judges to look at a television film of the race, but they refused. "The worst I should have got was a dead heat." Smith said. "Officially, I guess I've lost three important races in my life—two to Hines and one to Richard Stebbins, who used to run for Grambling. But in my own mind I've been beaten only twice."
A race between Smith and Hines generally is decided in the first 50 yards. Hines has a dynamic start. Smith starts slowly but finishes like a jet. Unless Hines breaks fast enough to have at least a substantial lead after about 50 yards, there is little chance he will survive Smith's closing charge. At San Diego Hines had moved to a six-yard lead after about five seconds, then yielded all six during the next 15 seconds.
To get these fast starts, Hines almost jumps the gun. Sometimes he does—and gets caught. He was disqualified from the 100-meter race at the Kansas Relays in April for two false starts. "It's the starters' fault," he says. "After they've said 'Get set,' they're supposed to hold 2� seconds—no longer—and fire the gun. This year they're holding three and 3� seconds and goofing me—and everyone else—all up. They get you up on your arms too long, and you lose your timing and form at the beginning."