Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Three very great curve runners of the past and their views

   If one was looking back through athletics history in 2011 you might say Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson and Jesse Owens are three of the Greatest 200/220 runners ever. However I feel there were three others who had just as much talent in their time.Henry Carr (USA), Tommie Smith (USA) and Don Quarrie (Jamaica)

HENRY CARR was born at Montgomery, Alabama on the 27th of November 1942. He broke the World 220 yards  record with 20.2 in Tempe Arizona on the 4th of April 1964 with 20.2. (Remember there were cinder tracks in those days). He was educated at the Northwestern High school, Detroit, Michigan and then at Arizona State University. He won the 1964, Tokyo, Olympic 200m Final from lane 7 in 20.3 with Paul Drayton (USA) 2nd in 20.5 and Edwin Roberts (Trinidad & Tobago) 3rd in 20.6.
   In Tokyo:-" At first I was quite disappointed about the lane, but the more I concentrated I became aware that the lane was to my advantage to have lane 7.'
   ' I knew from the start, if I was to get out and maintain my speed of relaxation no-one was going to beat me'
   He told me in London earlier he was going to retire from athletics after the Olympics. In Tokyo he said he said ' It does not really matter, as I have the gold medal and a World record. I am a 'Frontiersman' opening the path for other 200 men'
In Tokyo Henry Carr ran a 44.6 to bring the USA home in the 4x400 relay in a World record time of 3:00.7. Robbie Brightwell had a 'blinder' for Great Britain running 44.7 on the last leg. The British quartet came second in 3:01.6 and Trinidad & Tobago were third in 3:01.7. Talking to me at a Lancaster Gate hotel before the Tokyo Olympics Henry Carr said:-
   " After Tokyo I hope to retire and turn professional as a footballer so that I can carve out a descent living for my wife of five months and myself. I play quite a lot of football at school- in season of course. Although athletics has given me fame, popularity and a chance to travel and see how the other half lives, it does not put bread in your stomach. You can win a gold medal in the Olympics; you can be the best in the world; you can win all your races - but it takes a great deal of time, trouble and money to achieve one's athletic ambitions, no matter where one stands, as on the scale of ability and performance, so perhaps the biggest change to come about in athletics- and it's not far off a possibility-is for track and field athletics to become a professional sport. Cash apart I realise how better off I am being and American, especially after seeing the way people live- and die-in other countries."
     TOMMIE SMITH never really reached his full potential for one reason or another. He was my idea of the most naturally gifted runner over 200/400 I have ever seen but although he did beat Lee Evans (Olympic Champion in Mexico)  over 400 in his college days and later, Wendell Mottley (silver medallist 400 Final in Tokyo) at the White City Stadium in 1967, he chose the 200 as his individual event to do.. In Mexico the first three in the 200 Final were 1 Tommie Smith (USA) 19.8 World Record; 2 Peter Norman (Australia) 20.00; 3 John Carlos (USA) 20.00.
   Steve Williams, the 1977 World Cup 100m Champion and part of the American sprint team that broke the World record for the 4x100 at that meting in Dusseldorf. He also won the AAA's 100m in 10.2 in 1974. He spoke out about his fellow countryman Tommie Smith
   " I think I was doubly impressed by Tommie Smith' build which was pretty close to mine, and his style, which was flawless. I really admire his black pride and Olympic demonstration. I think what he and John Carlos did was timely. It was a necessary demonstration for black people at the time. Pretty much also, he was someone I really admired because of his black pride and Olympic demonstration for black people at the time, a sort of strength and virility which needed to be demonstrated to the young and impressionable black people of the United States. I remember reading  what Tommie said, that it was odd he could compete for America as America's best but then live as a second class American. I think that sums it up"
   Tommie Smith is 6ft 3ins tall, 185 lbs (13st 3lbs). He was a student teacher from San Jose College, California. " I am the smallest in my family of five brothers and seven sisters. All of them are athletic. My Father was a baseball player so was my mother, one brother did boxing, two are football players. At school basketball was always my favourite sport'
' My first 400 I ran was in 47.7. I still like the 220 as a race'
   ' I did not pattern myself on anybody else. I wanted to make a path of my own so that if other sprinters wanted to follow me they could'
    His coach was a very good one called Bud Winter.
One of Tommie's key things about sprinting was relaxation
   'That is something that has to be worked on a great deal. It is not natural with many people, and believe me it needs a lot of perseverance to learn to relax whilst running at top speed That many athletes can not relax is more is often than not the cause of pulled muscles 10 to 20 yards from the tape. For example although I gave the appearance of relaxation at the White City Stadium (When he beat Wendell Mottley) - It probably appeared that I was 'loafing' along , I was still working hard, but I must repeat that it is very difficult to stay relaxed at maximum speed'
   'Relaxation is the key to success in a race. If you relax it helps the movement of the limbs. If you do not, then every muscle in your body will contract, and you will become tense. You must give your muscles plenty of room to move in or you will automatically tie-up. When you reach top speed and relax, it helps you maintain that speed. This goes for any athlete, whatever the event.'
   ' For my own part, I am never satisfied until I have pleased myself. Yes, I may well have pleased the crowd but, unless I feel self-pleasure, I never feel satisfied. The incentive to please himself is born within a person, whatever his ultimate calling in life, and it is thus important that the teacher or coach endeavours to bring this out in the individual at an early stage.'
   'I am intrigued by youngsters, and have been for a long time that is why I want to be a teacher. I like to know how the child's mind works, and my hobby is child-care, which has already given me a good insight into my ultimate profession as an elementary school teacher.  
                   DON QUARRIE was one of the smoothest bend runners in the World of all time. From 1968 to 1989 he was a formidable sprinter at top level. He made the Olympic team for Mexico in 1968 and was unlucky that he was not picked for Jamaica in 1988 when he was 2nd in the Jamaican 200 Championships in 20.6!  He certainly must go down as possibly the most durable sprinter of all time
   Don  Quarrie was born on the 25th of February 1951. He weighed 70kg and his height was 1.75. In my fifth or interview with him he looked back with me at his career told me in 1988
           " I think the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970 was one of my biggest highlights, because I came through  on the international scene with those two wins 100/200. The 200 in the Olympics in 1976 in Montreal (1st in 20.23, 2 Millard Hampton USA 20.29,3 Dwayne Evans USA 20.43 and 4 Pietro Mennea the Italian Olympic Champion of 1980, 20.54)--was a highlight as I wanted that because in 1972 I had the misfortune of being injured , so I had the determination and everything was pointing towards 1976, and it came through just the way I was hoping and the way I had planned it. I would not change anything."
   The AAU Championships are an important athletic event in the United States and Don had several sprint races over 100 or 200.
   " I do have a memory for the American Championships because I won a couple of those. Some of the 200's I ran I knew I could win, it was just a matter of staying in control and staying as relaxed as I could, and it worked."

Alastair Aitken

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