"Then he started talking to these kids about the ghetto, how he grew up. I couldn't believe I was hearing Carlos talk, talking from the heart and soul. It was the first time I had ever heard or seen him like that. Listening to him, I was amazed. And the kids were amazed. After it was over, John walked up to me and said, 'I don't expect people to believe everything I say. All I want is that they listen to me and have an open mind.' "
To Carlos' mind the present is everything. He doesn't think far ahead but is preoccupied with acceptance now and money now—and he is confident that he can have it all. Although only a sophomore at San Jose, his class at East Texas State graduates next June, making him eligible for the pro draft. "And if they drafted me tonight, I'd sign tomorrow," he says. "And not for nickels. If I'm going to have to get hit, then stitched up, they're going to have to pay me good. Some guys do it for 85 cents. That's too much hurt for junk change like that. I can't see it."
It never enters his mind that he may fail in pro ball just as he never doubted from his first days at San Jose that the world records would some day be his. At the time, two summers ago, Carlos measured himself and realized what he could do. "You have never really seen me run," he said one afternoon while visiting Tommie Smith's apartment. Then, looking at Smith's trophies, he said, "You just watch. Someday I'm going to get me that record in the 100. And someday I'm going to get me that record in the 220."
This confidence has not wavered. The night before the Mt. San Antonio Relays in April, he heard that Mike Goodrich, a sophomore from Indiana University, had run the 100 in a 9.2, then the best of the season. Although it was past midnight, Carlos called his coach, Bud Winter. "This is Carlos," he announced, then promised, "I can't let that cat get away with it." Hours later Carlos ran a 9.2 and said he would set a world record the next week. He did, running nine flat, but the mark was disallowed because of an excessive following wind. Again, a week later at the Fresno Relays, Carlos promised that he would set a record and this time he tied it. And yet again, after his win at Villanova, he predicted that he would run the 220 in 19.6, .4 under the world record and the 100 in 8.8 or 8.9.
Yet being at the top is a new role for Carlos, so long the underdog, the victim, and there are those who feel that he doesn't want the part. Winter, who has coached Ray Norton, Smith and Evans, each a world-record holder, taught Carlos high-knee action—some call it the San Jose look—and worked with him on his form. (During Carlos' first high-knee drill at San Jose his form was so terrible that Evans burst out laughing. "You look so bad," he told Carlos. "How do you run so fast?") But although Winter has helped Carlos with the mechanics, he hasn't been able to reach Carlos' mind.
"As a runner, Carlos hasn't surprised me at all," Winter says. "The first time I saw him go down a track he looked like he was pounding grapes into wine. He looked like he was shuffling. But he always had the potential. Now I say he has the potential to be the greatest ever. As a matter of fact, our goal for him this year is at least five world records—100 yards and meters, 220 yards, 200 meters and a leg on the 880 relay. And if he would work on the 440 he could set track immortality.
"But now it's a psychological game for us to get him to that goal. He's the toughest man I've ever tried to coach. He's one of the strangest men I've ever met. A kaleidoscope. Sometimes he can be so logical, so rational and will say, 'I see your point of view.' And you think you have gotten through to him. But the next day everything may have changed again. The biggest thing now is pressing the right buttons. If we do, John can achieve the greatest results.
"Our problem is that there is in Carlos what we call the will to fail. This role of underdog is so big in his book that sometimes he's afraid to get the world records because he'll no longer be the underdog. It's not that he's afraid of being a champion. He's the most confident person I've seen. He's relaxed. Cocky. When he makes up his mind to do something he's fantastic. He'll work hard for it. He can almost call his shot. When he's convinced, he'll produce.
"But there's a difference between the wish to win and the will to win. The world is full of people who could have broken the world record. Now he tells me he wants the world records next year. But talent is like a windfall. It may never come again."
John Carlos does not worry. Like at Villanova. As the day ended a girl ran up to him and pulled a white silk scarf from her purse. She laid it flat across the victory stand.