Eddie Hart’s Quest to be the Fastest

August 10, 2007

Home » Commentary » Eddie Hart’s Quest to be the Fastest

Since his youth in the schoolyard, where he always outran other kids to the finish line, Eddie Hart dreamed of someday becoming the Fastest Man in the World.  It is one of the most respected titles in sports – requiring a raw display of unequivocal athleticism – and rivals the significance (though not the celebrity) of being Heavyweight Champion or the all-time Home Run King.  His informal victories against classmates not withstanding, Hart appeared to have scant opportunity to compete with the best sprinters.  As a senior at Pittsburg High School in 1967, the skinny 150-pounder failed not merely to win the 100-yard dash in the California high school championships, he didn’t make the finals.

No university offered a track scholarship, and Hart toiled two years in junior college, adding ten pounds of power to his frame and enough speed to earn a full-ride to the University of California where the rapidly-developing young man captured the NCAA 100 title as a junior.  Two years later, at the 1972 Olympic Trials, he tied the world record of 9.9 seconds in the 100-meter dash.  He was going to Munich to face the top-ranked sprinter in the world, the Bionic Man, Valeri Borzov of the Soviet Union.

Borzov was both an enigma and a whirlwind of publicity.  His coaches and their political authorities withheld him from many meets involving American sprinters, who represented the enemy in the worldwide ideological battle between capitalism and communism.  After beating everyone in Russia, Borzov was let out of confinement to win the 100-meter dash at the 1969 European Championships and both sprint titles at the 1971 championships.  When he defeated selected rivals from the United States, Soviet officials made him a symbol of the superior socialist state, and by late August 1972 rapid representatives of the superpowers were ready to clash.

At the Olympic Games in Munich there were four heats in the 100-meter competition, the first two in a single day.  Eddie Hart easily qualified in his race about 10 a.m.  Stan Wright, the U.S. sprint coach, carrying a schedule several months old, told Hart and teammates Rey Robinson and Robert Taylor their next heat would be in a few hours.

“We wanted to go back to the Olympic Village and relax,” said Hart during a recent lunch at McCovey’s restaurant in Walnut Creek, California.  “Stan showed a German official his schedule and asked if it was correct, and the guy assured him it was.  I was lying on my bed in the dormitory, looking at a newer schedule, when I noticed the discrepancy and told the other guys.  Then, as we hurried to leave the village, I saw ‘my race’ on an ABC monitor.  It was a nightmare.

“We rushed to the Olympic Stadium, and Rey Robinson had also missed his race.  Robert Taylor’s heat was about to start and he had to jump out of his sweat suit, get in the blocks and go.  For Rey and me, it was the end of a lifelong dream.  The officials wouldn’t let us back in the competition.”

The only man in the world who could have competed with Valeri Borzov was Eddie Hart.  Without his primary rival in the race, Borzov glided to victory, raising both arms at the tape.  The Ukrainian later noted, “I gave 90 percent of what I had to give” and, by implication, could’ve used the rest to beat anyone else in the race.   Robert Taylor won the silver medal.

Borzov used the 200-meter heats as warm-ups, virtually jogging down the stretch as he looked back at men he knew he’d beat in the finals while harvesting his second gold medal.  Eddie Hart would have only one chance to run against his rival, on the anchor leg of the 400-meter relay.

“My goal had been to win the gold medal in the 100, not beat Valeri Borzov,” said Hart.  “In the relay, Gerald Tinker ran one of the greatest third legs ever and gave me the baton with a four-meter lead.  That meant the race was over.  Borzov and I finished the same distance apart, but more than anything it was a moral victory for our sprinters, as well as our basketball team, which had twice fairly beaten the Russians in the gold medal game, and each time the officials put time back on the clock.  It was a farce.  Everyone on our basketball team refused to accept their silver medals, and it’s in their wills that none of their relatives will ever collect them, either.”

In the early 1970’s there were many whispers from the world of track and field that Valeri Borzov benefited from steroids and other chemical wizardry.  What does Eddie Hart think?

“Borzov’s coach was Remi Korchemy,” he said.

Korchemy moved to the United States years ago, and several of his athletes here have been suspended for using steroids. He’s also been convicted in the BALCO steroids scandal and sentenced to probation.  Was Korchemy channeling his athletes into similar performance enhancing drugs 35 years ago?

“I definitely think so,” said Hart.  “But for me, there’s no sour grapes.  I kept it in perspective.  It was time to move on.”

Sporting controversies at the 1972 Olympics will forever be overwhelmed by images of two Israeli athletes murdered in their dormitory while they tried to help nine teammates kidnapped by the Black September group of Palestinian Arab militants.  Within 24 hours, following a failed rescue attempt at an airbase by German authorities, the rest of the Israelis were shot then blown up by a grenade.  Despite the tragedy a decision was announced: the Games would go on.  A memorial ceremony was held.  Sounds from Beethoven soared over 80,000 mourners in the stadium.

“We were all saddened by the tragedy,” said Hart.  “But we were so focused on what we had to do as athletes that we learned a lot of the details only after we got home.”

Since track and field athletes of Hart’s generation could not make a living in professional track, he accepted a fifth-year scholarship as an assistant coach at Cal and in a few years became coach at Alameda City College and later also taught physical education and health at Laney and Merritt colleges.  Now he invests most of his time in the Eddie Hart Foundation that offers a variety of youth programs in education, motivation, and behavioral modification as well as assistance in revitalizing his hometown of Pittsburg.  One of his key projects is renovating the Pittsburg Creative Arts Building on the campus of his high school.

“This was once a state of the art facility,” Hart said.  “James Brown and Stevie Wonder and many other great performers played there.  But over the years things started to wear out, and the school started using it as a detention center.  We’ve been working with other groups in town for two-and-a-half years to change that.  We’ve already raised about $300,000 but still need a half million.  We’ll get there.”

On this August afternoon at McCovey’s – a memorabilia-filled diamond named for San Francisco Giants slugger Willie McCovey, a hall of fame master of mammoth home runs – Eddie Hart and his son Eddie, Jr. were hosted by three executives from the National Electrical Contractors Association.  The men from NECA stressed they represent both management and workers, and want to ally with Hart to form an electrical trade academy.

“I’m certainly interested,” he said.  “Minority kids need to become more involved in the trades.  That’s something they could use as a goal, even if they eventually have to go into something else.  That’s what I teach the kids: when things don’t go your way, deal with it.”

George Thomas Clark

George Thomas Clark is the author of Hitler Here, a biographical novel published in India and the Czech Republic as well as the United States. His commentaries for GeorgeThomasClark.com are read in more than 50 countries a month.

Recent Commentary

Books

HITLER HERE is a well researched and lyrically written biographical novel offering first-person stories by the Fuehrer and a variety of other characters. This intimate approach invites the reader to peer into Hitler’s mind, talk to Eva Braun, joust with Goering, Goebbels, and Himmler, debate with the generals, fight on land and at sea and…
See More
Art history and fiction merge to reveal the lives and emotions of great painters Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, William H. Johnson, Lee Krasner, and many others.
See More
This fast-moving collection blends fiction and movie history to illuminate the stimulating lives and careers of noted actors, actresses, and directors. Stars of this book include Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett, and Spike Lee.
See More
In this collection of thirty-eight chiseled short stories, George Thomas Clark introduces readers to actors, alcoholics, addicts, writers famous and unknown, a general, a lovelorn farmer, a family besieged by cancer, extraterrestrials threatening the world, a couple time traveling back to a critical battle, a deranged husband chasing his wife, and many more memorable people…
See More
Anne Frank On Tour and Other Stories
This lively collection offers literary short stories founded on History, Love, Need, Excess, and Final Acts.
See More
In lucid prose author George Thomas Clark recalls the challenges of growing up in a family beset by divorce, depression, and alcoholism, and battling similar problems as an adult.
See More
Let’s invite many of the greatest boxers and their contemporaries to tell their own stories, some true, others tales based on history. The result is a fascinating look into the lives and battles of those who thrilled millions but often ruined themselves while so doing.
See More
In a rousing trip through the worlds of basketball and football, George Thomas Clark explores the professional basketball league in Mexico, the Herculean talents of Wilt Chamberlain, the artistry of LeBron James, the brilliance of Bill Walsh, and lots more. Half the stories are nonfiction and others are satirical pieces guided by the unwavering hand of an inspired storyteller.
See More
Get on board this collection of satirical stories, based on news, about the entertaining but absurd and often quite dangerous events following the election of President Donald J. Trump in November 2016 until January 6, 2021, shortly after his loss to Joe Biden.
See More
Join Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and other notables on a raucous ride into a fictional world infused with facts from one of the roughest political races in modern U.S. history.
See More
History and literary fiction enliven the Barack Obama phenomenon from the African roots of his father and grandfather to the United States where young Obama struggles to control vices and establish his racial identity. Soon, the young politician is soaring but under fire from a variety of adversaries including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh.
See More
These satirical columns allow startlingly candid Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush to explain their need to control the destinies of countries, regions, and, ultimately, the world. Osama bin Laden, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Karl Rove, and other notables, not all famous, also demand part of the stage.
See More
Where Will We Sleep
Determined to learn more about those who fate did not favor, the author toured tattered, handmade refuges of those without homes and interviewed them on the streets and in homeless shelters, and conversed with the poor in the United States, Mexico, Ecuador, and Spain, and on occasion wrote composite stories to illuminate their difficult lives.
See More
In search of stimulating stories, the author interviewed prostitutes in Madrid, Mexico City, Havana, and Managua and on many boulevards in the United States, and he talked to detectives and rode the rough roads of social workers who deal with human trafficking, which is contemporary slavery, and sometimes used several lives to create stories, and everywhere he ventured he witnessed struggles of those whose lives are bound In Other Hands.
See More
In compressed language Clark presents a compilation of short stories and creative columns about relationships between men and women.
See More
Political Satire for Progressives
Available now in a single digital-only volume of four books: Echoes from Saddam Hussein, Obama on Edge, King Donald, and Down Goes Trump. In his signature style, George Thomas Clark combines satire and creative writing to illuminate many historic developments this century. Echoes from Saddam Hussein – Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush candidly explain their need to control the…
See More