Black History Month Retrospective…Olympian Jim Hines

Jim Hines (front) became the first person to go under 10 seconds in the 100 meters.
Fast company: Jim Hines (front) became the first person to go under 10 seconds in the 100 meters.

Olympic gold medal winner Jim Hines broke the mold in the 100 meters. And he did it on the world’s biggest sports stage. No other human being had cracked the speed barrier of the 10 seconds mark in the 100 meters until the Oakland, California native did it. That gauge would be shattered by Hines at the 1968 Olympics.

“That feat that I accomplished was not from a man’s point of view, it was from God,” Hines said in an interview with News4usonline.com Editor Dennis J. Freeman. “When you win the title of the fastest man in the world, it’s not because of some man giving you that title. It’s a title from God. When you’re the fastest man in the world, and there are six billion people in the world at the time, and you’re number one-that’s recognition money can’t buy.”

The great Jesse Owens, the man who won four gold medals and defied ruthless dictator Adolph Hitler at the Berlin, Germany Olympics in 1936, wasn’t able to do what Hines was able to do.

Not even the great “Bullet” Bob Hayes, the electrifying sprinter who brought home the gold at 100 meters from the 1964 Olympics, could do it. Hayes, who went on to NFL fame, would wow an international audience at that same Olympics with a memorable anchor leg in the United States’ victorious 4×100 relay that was unofficially clocked at 8.84 seconds.

Still, no one had officially crossed the coveted line in the short sprint-from starting blocks to tape- as the world fastest human in under 10 seconds. That is until Hines turned the track and field world upside down with his fascinating run to glory during the tumultuous and deeply controversial Mexico City Olympic Games. The year of 1968 was a high time of anxiety in the United States, particularly for African Americans.

Civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were both gunned down and lost their lives. Riots broke out everywhere, fire and destruction reigning over the country. Racial tensions simmered until it boiled over into strife and constant dissention as Jim Crow laws and segregation issues persisted.

With all of this turmoil going on, black athletes became weary of going to represent the United States at the Olympics. America, land of the free, had become nothing but well-articulated verbiage and living that excluded African Americans. Talk of a proposed boycott of the Olympics by black athletes was heavy in the air.

Hines, who ran to national prominence as a track and field star at Oakland, California’s McClymonds High School, and later at Texas Southern University, wasn’t feeling the proposed sit-out. Considered to be one of the greatest sprinters of all time, Hines felt that African American athletes would be better served by going to the Olympics to showcase their greatness and patriotism to a country that didn’t love them back.

“If you’re an individual on this earth, and you have to express your talents, you need to go on and display your talents,” Hines said. “Had we boycotted, we would have ended the dream. We would not have had a chance to go out and display our talents. What would have it accomplished for us to have boycotted the 1968 Olympics and not go? You would have had 44 blacks on the U.S. American team who didn’t go out and did what we did.”

The proposed boycott by disgruntled black athletes was eventually dropped. One might conclude that it was a momentous achievement for the United States track and field team in more ways than one.

Jim Hines won two gold medals in record-breaking time at the 1968 Olympics.

With Hines, long jumper Bob Beabon, sprinters Lee Evans and Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and the great Wyomia Tyus anchoring the women’s team, the 1968 United States track and field team is considered to this day to be the greatest squad ever put together by this country, or any other for that matter.

Smith and Carlos would overshadow the Olympics with their now famous black-power salute, which didn’t too well with Hines, who feels that their single act took away from the great feats the U.S. track team achieved.

“That’s the greatest track team in the history of mankind,” Hines said. “The reason why we have not gotten the official recognition for being the being the greatest Olympic team of all time is because of the major controversy. That controversy put a big cloud, a dark cloud over the things that we accomplished.

“It put a dark cloud over my title as the “World’s Fastest Human,” which is a title many men would love to have. What had happened on the political did not only hurt the Olympic team, but it hurt a million black men in America at the time who were applying for work in the United States-who were denied jobs because of that strong stance. Did it help anything? It was a big backlash.”

Hines led the record-performing charge by the Americans with two gold medals and two world-record times.  His scoreboard clocking of 9.89 second, which was later officially turned into 9.95 in the 100 meters, raised more than a few eyebrows around the track.

It reverberated around the world. Hines’ world-record time would stand for 15 years, a feat even more remarkable considering the social pressures African Americans were dealing with in that time period. Himes didn’t have the benefit of all-year training the way track athletes have it today. It was simpler back then. It was all about speed and more of it.

Thanks to a relaxed evening of sipping champagne and enjoying his family the night before the biggest race of his career, Hines had a lot more speed than the other fellows who lined up in the starting blocks alongside him. The night before the 100-meter finals, Hines decided to leave the confines of the Olympic Village to spend an intimate evening with his wife at a nearby hotel room, something that is considered as a no-no for athletes about to perform.

Apparently, it didn’t affect Hines’ performance on the track one bit.

“I had sex before my finals in the 100-meter dash, and I still went out the next day and ran a world-record,” Hines said. “I celebrated the night before the race. I knew the next day was going to be the biggest day of my life, so I went to my hotel room and I relaxed…I got my sleep.”

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1107 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.