He deflects talk of being the originator of the Jamaican sprinting tradition, saying, "No, there were plenty of others who had the same effect on me that Herb says I had on him. Dr. A.F. Brown was a competitor in the 1938 Central American Games. Barry Grant ran the 1,500 and was known as The Flying Farmer. But I know the way Herb felt when he saw me in my games suit. I had the same experience, but it happened that I was struck by an air force uniform."
Wint trained as an RAF pilot in Canada. "We finished the advanced course two days before VE Day," he says. "I spent five years in the service and then began my medical training at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London."
Thus from 1942 to 1952 Wint never had the luxury of having running as his first priority. "Training was different then," he says. "I never ran against the clock any farther than three-quarters of a mile. I only trained three times a week. A workout would be four 300s or two 600s. It took an hour on the underground from St. Bartholomew's to reach the track. So by today's standards, no, I never reached my potential. I regarded my running as pure recreation, although I was always disciplined. I knew early that if I wanted to win I had to work at it."
Wint is the son of a Presbyterian minister, John Samuel Wint, who's now 95. "My father's attitude was that you went abroad to improve and came home to help," says Wint. "And seeking foreign scholarships is still the only way to get competition. I recognize the social implications of that policy. They'll stay abroad, a lot of them."
Wint isn't particularly troubled by that, in part because it has always been so; he had been away from home for six years before he first represented Jamaica in an Olympics.
He's asked to recall the 1948 800 meters. He grins and shakes his head. "It was a total error on my part," he says. "I should have won and broken the Olympic record. Marcel Hansenne of France had had the fastest time in the semis, so I decided I'd just shadow him. Whitfield ran around into the lead and I dismissed him. I didn't go after him. Then, when I saw he was getting away, I was boxed between two Frenchmen [Hansenne and the wonderfully named Robert Chef-d'hotel]. In 1952, though, no matter what Herb says, I was lucky to get second place. The whole field let Whitfield and me go."
McKenley has also said that if Wint had gone through the U.S. college system, he would have run 1:46. "And wouldn't have had half the fun," says Wint. "I ran my first race at 11 and my last at 32. To stay at it so long, I must have been having fun." He thinks about that for a moment. The sunset dims, although the oranges on the trees are still live coals in the dark foliage. "Well, success breeds success, so you want to go on doing anything you do well. But you must also know the time at which you must give it up."
Wint is 63. "Every day I give thanks for having been able to do all the things I have. My grandchildren are doing well. I've had satisfying careers in sports, the air force and medicine."
And diplomacy. From 1974 to 1978 he served as the London-based High Commissioner, i.e., ambassador from Jamaica, to Great Britain, Sweden and Denmark. "In four years I witnessed such a profound change in the British attitude toward the West Indies that it was more than a little traumatic," Wint says. "I wouldn't feel comfortable living anywhere outside Jamaica right now."
Nor even in some Jamaican places. "It has become an aggressive society. There has been the migration to the cities. We have had our unrest. The boiling point is always quite near. And thousands of Jamaicans travel and come back with modern goodies, so what they had before doesn't satisfy them, or their neighbors. At the same time, there are still people who don't have a crust in the morning."