SI Vault
December 10, 1956
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 10, 1956

Events & Discoveries

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

There were few lonelier places in all the world during the last fortnight than the red brick-dust Olympic track at Melbourne. The athletes who stared up its empty lanes from the starting blocks had come not only to race other men but to engage in an ultimate act of self-exploration; in the aching moments before the gun sent them on their way each could rely only on his own strength, his own courage, his own speed. Few had more grounds for dismay—and few knelt at the starting line with more resolution—than Lee Quincy Calhoun, the tall (6 feet, 1 inch), slim (165 pounds) Negro youth from Gary, Ind., who won the gold medal in the 110-meter high hurdles.

A high hurdle stands 3 feet 6 inches tall. There are 10 of them to be surmounted in the 110-meter race and a man, to win in modern competition, must run over them and through the tape in less than 14 seconds—at almost a sprinter's speed. His timing must be exquisite and he cannot allow a change in footing or a gust of wind to alter the rhythm of the three driving steps he takes between hurdles. Neither can he allow the fierce pressure of competition to alter his composure—or his form. As he stands at the start, the 10 hurdles can seem like 10 traps, each waiting to trip him—he must clear each, but only by a fraction of an inch.

Every athlete has his own devil to fight, his own cross to bear. Calhoun's was the last 50 yards of the race. He is a quiet, polite, soft-spoken youth with none of the love of show which often seems to accompany spectacular athletic talent, but even in high school he had little difficulty with the basic posture of the hurdler—the loose-hipped leg split, the instantaneous forward adjustment of weight, the precise handling of shoulders and arms which allow a man to step rather than jump the wooden barrier. At little North Carolina College, in Durham, his talent bloomed amazingly under the direction of his track coach, Leroy Walker. As a sophomore he was timed in 14.3 for the 120-yard high hurdles. He was drafted in 1954 and was attached to the Eighth Army's 111th Evacuation Hospital in Korea. Last winter, a civilian again, he became one of the sensations of the Eastern indoor track season—he set or equaled world records in 50-, 60- and 70-yard races and beat all the leading hurdlers in the U.S.

But last spring, outside again to run 120 yards, he made a disconcerting discovery: he could not maintain his blazing speed for the full race. He entered the Marine Corps Relays at Quantico, and USC's one-time star, Navy Lieutenant Jack Davis, simply ran away from him in the last 50 yards. Afterward Davis told a newsman, " Calhoun doesn't have the stamina to go the distance. He'll never be a good hurdler." Davis—who had lost the 1952 Olympic hurdles race to Harrison Dillard by an eyelash and was passionately bent on winning in 1956—might better have kept silent. From that day on Calhoun, too, burned to win at Melbourne. He drove himself through fast quarter miles to gain strength, and his hurdling times were dramatically lowered: 14 flat, 13.9, 13.7. Davis broke the world record with a dazzling 13.4 in one of the preliminaries of the AAU meet, but Calhoun beat him in the finals with a 13.6. They ran a dead heat in the Olympic trials.

For all this, a few days before the Games themselves, Calhoun had reason to feel that fate was turning against him—Davis, running on an uneven grass track at Bendigo, Australia, broke his own world record with a fantastic 13.3-second race and spoke confidently of lowering this to 13 flat. Calhoun hardly slept at all the night before last week's Olympic final. He went out to the track taut with nervousness. But he found himself curiously confident of victory. He burst off the blocks and led Davis through the first five hurdles by two feet. The Californian, a superb athlete, then began to close the gap. The pair were even on the eighth, even on the ninth, even as they crossed the 10th hurdle. But somewhere Calhoun found the power he needed. He won by inches in 13.5 seconds. "He shouldn't have said it," he said, almost gratefully, of Davis afterward. "I just had to win."


A brand-new American automobile, exported to any country in the world and parked on a busy corner, will draw an admiring crowd who understand instantly what it is for, how it works and how nice it would be to have one. But for some reason an American sport has a harder time catching on. Baseball and football made their bids last Saturday in Melbourne and London respectively and, though they were received politely enough, they didn't get the quick acceptance that would have gone to a new Chevrolet.

At the Cricket Ground in Melbourne a crowd of 100,000 watched a U.S. Army baseball team defeat a group of Australian All-Stars in seven innings 11-5. It was a bigger crowd than has ever watched baseball in the United States, but it was there primarily to see the Olympic Games, to which the baseball demonstration was a preliminary. An announcer with a close-cropped British accent tried to explain to the Australians what was going on.

In London, 23,000 people showed up for the football in Wembley Stadium. Most of them were Americans, though, for the game was played to determine the top European team of the U.S. Air Force. (The London Rockets of the British Conference played the Wiesbaden Flyers of the German Conference.)

Still, there was a good turnout of Britishers, as the Air Force had hoped there would be. Its public relations men (called community relations men) had advertised in the newspapers and put posters in the subway. "Fast...Rugged...Exciting," they promised, and urged the reader to "book early." They also offered the full range of trimmings that go with American football: hot dogs, cheerleaders, marching bands, card stunts and celebrities. The latter consisted of Actor Dana Andrews and a girl called Sabrina who, statistically at least, is a sort of British Dagmar.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5