This is day 4 of Mike Fanelli’s labor of love, his salute to the 1968 Olympic Trials and the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The stories are written by Mike Fanelli, who does a daily athletics history feature on his Facebook page, that is, well, amazing. As part of his 1968 Olympic coverage, artwork will be taken from the Track Garage, Mike’s personal athletic historical collection. We thank Mike Fanelli for this series.
Day four of these Olympic Track and Field Trials featured five semis (pole vault, 400IH, steeplechase, 800, and discus) along with the final selection of Olympians in both the shot put and 100 meter dash. Each of the anti-climatic semi-final competitions would whittle away just a maximum of two qualifiers towards their respective finales.
Photo credit: Historical Images press photo
As no other track nor field events were taking place during the afternoon’s chucking contest, the shot putters were on center stage and surrounded by nearly 2,000 spectators. Said fans came to witness the juxtaposition of hefty sized men, launching 16 pound steel orbs through some exaggeratedly skinny air.
The new assistant coach at Cal under Sam Bell, Dave Maggard, was so amped up that he heaved an Olympic Team qualifying 67′ 41/4″ on his very first attempt. Likewise, George Woods’ inaugural effort, a 68′ 1/4″ blast, also nailed an Oly berth. Texan, Randy Matson, on the other hand, was fumbling and stumbling but managed to produce a bronze medal effort of 67′ 1 1/4″. It was the first time that he had finished third in a shot put competition since the 1963 AAU’s…when he was but a high school senior.
Factoring in the altitude, the athletes, and their attitudes coming into Echo Summit, the 100 meters was clearly amongst the most anticipated events of all. At the just completed AAU National Championships, on cinders in Sacramento, the century dash world record standard was bettered or equaled no fewer than TEN times in a single evening. So much so that it became labeled as, and is still referenced as, the ‘Night of Speed’.
In the gloaming of an 1800h start time, the temps hovered at just 63 degrees Fahrenheit. For speedsters who were accustomed to central heating that matched their ferocious burn rates, it was perceived as borderline frigid…far more conducive to the ten thousand than the ten seconds.
The speedster sorts settled into their starting blocks, and once the pistol smoke cleared, Army athlete, Mel Pender, fresh from a tour of the Mekong Delta, was out like am M-16 bullet…Ronnie Ray Smith was less than half a body bag back on his left flank. Jim Hines eeked into the fore at 62 meters, and then tardy starter, Charlie Greene, caught Mel just after an 80 meters marker. The Longines timing system recorded Hines as the clear and undisputed champeen at 10.0 with zero wind (and not much more oxygen), while the next four finishers were all officially given times of 10.1. Hines, Greene, Pender and Smith would head to Mexico dressed up in reds, and whites, and blues as representatives of Team USA in the straightaway dass…oh and, as the American relay squad in the always internationally competitive 4 x 100 meters.
Shortly thereafter, the nearly autumn dusk quickly faded into night. Back in the athlete dorms, restless gladiators battled both angels and demons. Their late night mattress self-talk flipped and flopped between victory and defeat. There were no silencers to be found.
Next up, day 5 of the Echo Summit Track and Field Trials …and the road to the XIX Olympic Games of Mexico City.