The 1936 Olympics in Berlin was the setting for Jesse Owens' magnificent triple victory. It might have been spoiled had not Metcalfe been virtually eliminated at the start of the 100. "The starter held us a bit and I began to sway forward," he remembers. "Just as I swayed back to regain my balance the gun fired. I was last at the 50, but finished second to Jesse by a yard. Another 10 yards and I might have beaten him." A week later, running a world-record 10.3 at Cologne, he did. It was the last time the two rivals met.
Ralph Metcalfe's apparently hopeless try for an Olympic gold medal was at least partially realized, though, when he teamed with Owens, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff at Berlin to set a record in the 400-meter relay. That shared gold medal was the culmination of 16 years of dedicated training and genuine sacrifice.
The statistics he left are as imposing as the sight of Metcalfe in full flight. His 9.4 for 100 yards and 10.2 for 100 meters are only 10ths of a second behind today's world records, and they were done before the advent of starting blocks, faster tracks, vitamins, lighter track shoes and the financial help now available to top athletes. (The first time a meet paid Metcalfe's travel expenses was 1936, when he competed at the Texas Exposition in Dallas.)
Metcalfe has done well since his retirement from track. He recently began his second term as alderman of Chicago's third ward. His present success has been helped by a realization he came to as a result of his athletic experience. "My finish was my strongest feature. I sometimes depended too much on it."