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Interview With Gold Medal Sprinter Jim Hines


Interview With Gold Medal Sprinter Jim Hines

Jim Hines in 2003

Clive Rose/Getty Images
Jim Hines is undoubtedly one of the greatest sprinters in track and field history. The American was the first to run under 10 seconds in an Olympic 100-meter final, winning the gold medal in 1968 in a world record time of 9.95 seconds to earn the title of the World’s Fastest Human. His world record stood for 15 years and his Olympic mark survived for 20. But Hines’ greatest sprint during the 1968 Olympics came in the 4 x 100-meter relay, as he led the U.S. to a come-from-behind victory with a tremendous anchor leg.

I interviewed Hines prior to the 2008 Olympics, immediately after I spoke with fellow 1968 Olympian Mel Pender, who’d expressed his dismay about finishing fourth in the 100-meter race, despite leading after 50 meters.

On Mel Pender’s statement that he felt he should’ve have won the 100 meters in 1968.
Hines: “You’d hear that at all the races we had, you’d always hear Mel complaining. It was a great race. Mel Pender was probably one of the greatest starters of all time, and you could never beat him out of the blocks. So I knew in the finals, that if I’d just come up close to Mel at 60 meters, like I did in every race, I could go past him and really go for victory.”

On winning the 100-meter gold medal.
“It was the greatest feeling ever. It’s 40 years later and I still get a significant feeling from it. When you win that gold medal and you’re number one in the whole world, (and earn) the Fastest Human title, no one can ever take that away from you. It’s something that you carry with you the rest of your life.”

On the 4 x 100 relay race in 1968.
“We were in sixth place when I got the baton and Jim McKay of ABC said there was no way in the world that we could win. ... And I ran the greatest leg of my life, the fastest I ever ran in my life and my leg was clocked at 8.2 seconds, and that’s the fastest clocking of any anchor leg in history. And right now I’m trying to get to see that relay race because, you know, I have never seen that relay, (after) 40 years, yet. It needs to be shown. I want to see it myself, to see my own anchor leg and what I did.”

His thoughts when he took the baton, knowing the U.S. was in sixth place.
“It put a lot of pressure on me. I knew we were in trouble and I knew those other anchor men, they were all just as fast as I was. And I knew I had to get a great baton exchange (from Ronnie Ray Smith), and I did, and I just ran the fastest I ever ran in my life. I had to do it. I had to really do it.”

On how much of sprint success is mental vs. physical.
“Mentally, sprinting is 75 percent. You’ve got have it mentally. If you don’t have it mentally then you’re defeated. If you’re running at 30, 35 percent interest – and being an athlete, period – it’s not good. It has to be over 60 percent, especially in sprinting, because it’s all about being positive and believing that you can just go, go, go.”

On whether mental toughness can be learned.
“It s something that you learn. I learned it from Muhammad Ali. People were on him about hollering about, ‛I’m the greatest, I’m the greatest.’ But he was doing it to develop a positive mind. And I learned it from him, and became very, very strong within myself. It pays off.”

Advice to young sprinters.
“The main thing is what we just talked about. You have to have toughness in your mind. You can be a good sprinter, but if you develop that toughness and believe that you’re the best, within your mind, without speaking about it, it will help you improve a great deal. And also, track and field is an individual sport and you’re not going to win every race. So even when you lose, you know that you made a mistake. ... Correct that mistake and come back the next meet.”

Further reading:
Olympic sprint and relay main page
Illustrated history of sprints and relays: The World's Fastest Man

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