Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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'HUSTLING HERB' ONE OF THE FIRST JAMAICAN OLYMPIANS (January 2012)

That 'Great' international journalist Mel Watman, introduced my interview with Herb McKenley in 1987. Published in the 'Athletics Weekly' with the following words:- ' Although  he never quite managed to win an individual Olympic title, Herb Mckenley of Jamaica was undoubtedly the foremost 400m runner of the decade following the Second Word War. In an era when 47 seconds was considered a World Class performance he was under that figure on some 60 occasions."
 
(In 1946 He ran a World Record 440 yards of 46.2 on a  very wet day on ciders that broke the  previous World record  of 46.4 held by Ben Eastman and Grover Klemmer.)

                                                   
                                                   LONDON OLYMPICS 1948
400m Final. First 3 1 Arthur Wint (Jam) 46.2, an Olympic record. 2 Herb McKenley (Jam) 46.4 and 3 Mal Whitfield (USA) 46.9
(Whitfield won the 800 Olympic title in 1948 & 1952).
   In the 200m Final of 1948 The first four were 1 Mel Patton (USA) 21`.1, 2 "Barny" Ewell (USA) 21.1; 3 Lloyd La Beach (Panama) 21.2 and 4 Herb McKenley (Jam) 21.3.
 Herb McKenley was favourite to win the 400 but he was beaten by Arthur Wint. Herb comes in here:-    
"Although Arthur was my idol it just never occurred to me at that time that he could beat me. I remember I never felt better in my life running 400. I ran 21.1 at 200 and I felt as though I was just coming out of my blocks. I said to myself ' ' McKenley, go for 45' and so my whole running pattern changed. Somebody told me later that I was through 300 in 32.8. It was just at that time that Arthur started to move. I knew something was happening because I was getting tired. If I had held my form I would probably have made it, but...I don't feel I failed as much as he ran 46.2 and I ran 46.4. In those days 46.4 would have won most races."
                                     
                                               HELSINKI OLYMPICS 1952.
One of the closest ever 100m Olympic Finals, where a lean meant coming first or fourth!
Mckenley was truly involved. The result ,on the 21st of July, for the first six were 1 Lindy Remigino (USA) 10.4, 2 Herb McKenley (Jam) 10.4, 3 McDonald Bailey (GBR) originally from Trinidad (10.4); 4 Dean Smith (USA) 10.4; 5 Vladimir Sukharev (URS) 10.5; 6 John Treloar (Australia) 10.5.

    Herb comes in with his analysis of the race from his point of view
   " I went into the 100 at the Olympics only because I wanted to improve my start so that I could develop my speed for the 400. I had no thought of winning the race: I did not think I was physically ready for it.' (six weeks earlier he came down with the mumps).  ' I did not run very well in the heats (10.7) but I did successfully in the second round (10.5) and semi-finals (10.4)---Up till then no one, including myself, thought I had a chance--but  then I went into the final with a tremendous desire to win. I was too eager and in my anxiety to start well I came straight up and after 30m I was three or four or five metres behind, so my whole run was catch-up This was how really I lost the race; I was too far back from the beginning! At 90m I must have still been 2 metres back but at the finish I was given the same time (10.4) as the winner.
   Helsinki 400m Final (25th of July) 1 George Rhoden (Jam) 45.9, Olympic record, 2 Herb McKenley (JAM) 45.9; 3 Ollie Matson (USA) 46.8; 4 Karl-Fredrich Haas (GER-FRG) 47.00; 5 Arthur Wint (Jam) 47.0 and 6 Mal Whitfield (USA) 47.1.
   " I thought I need not try to run away from the crowd; I thought I could hold my own in the kick home so in the final I ran 22.9 at 200, more than a second slower than I had run on the way, followed by 23.0 second 200. I was in lane 4, Ollie Matson in lane 5 and Rhoden in 6, with Arthur Wint in lane 2. I decided I would stay with Matson, and as long as I stayed with him I would be in contention at the crucial moment. Just as we entered the turn for home after the 200 mark I heard this heavy pounding. I thought that must be Wint, but what is he doing here so early? Then I did something I don't remember ever having done before: I turned.round and looked.
   At that point in time I think I had the race won right there, but by the time I had turned back Rhoden was six or seven metres up. in other words, his move and my move coincided.. I immediately  went after him. I don't know if I went after him too hard initially or what- I know I was catching him - but with about 10 or 15m to go I was reaching so far and could not go any further. I caught him but could not get past him, both of us being timed at 45.9 (On Cinders) Although I had lost I felt I had vindicated myself, as most people thought I did not have a chance."
   4x400m Final on the 27th of July A GOLD FOR HERB!
 1 Jamaica (Arthur Wint 46.8; Leslie Laing 47.0; Herb Mckenley 44.6; George Rhoden 45.5) World Record of 3:03.9
2nd  United States 3:04.0 (Ollie Matson 46.7; Gene Cole 45.5; Charles Moore 46.3 and Mal Whitfield 45.5.
3 Germany 3:06.6, 4 Canada, 5 Great Britain and 6 France.

" I remember I ran against Charlie Moore, who had just won the 400 hurdles. I ran 44.6 for my leg to pull back a deficit of 13 metres. I caught Charlie but did not really pass him, but because I was coming in faster than he was the exchange to Rhoden gave us about a metre. Mal Whitfield, anchoring for the US, came up on Rhoden at one time, just going into the turn and of course Rhoden was able to hold him off because Whitfield could not get round him on the turn and that was the difference. It was a tremendous race."
   Herbert Henry McKenley was born Clarendon, Jamaica on the 10th of July 1922 so, how did it all begin for him?
         " It was the spectacle of Arthur Wint, who used to go to the same high school as me in Jamaica. I saw him in action and I thought he looked really tremendous and graceful. Then, a year later (1938), he was selected for the Jamaica team for the Caribbean Games and he came to the school dressed in his uniform, which at the time was a cream suit with a maroon tie, white shoes and a Panama straw hat. I thought 'Boy, this is really greet; one day I must wear that uniform'. I was then aspiring to run for the high school team."

Alastair Aitken

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