Editors note: This piece is being reposted due to the Memorial on January 20, 2024 for the late Mike Fanelli. Mike was the cultural historian of our sport, a lifetime runner, a former Reebok sports marketing manager, coach, athlete, agent, elite athlete coordinator, real estate impresario, friend, brother, and husband. We will miss him. I wanted our readers to see a small selection of his pieces on #RunBlogRun over the years. Mike Fanelli, 1956-2023, RIP. 

This is day 3 of the series, The 1968 Mexico Olympics Reconsidered, by Mike Fanelli. We have reposted this series on the 54th anniversary of the series.

This is day 3 of the 1968 Olympic recap from our athletics friend, Mike Fanelli. Mike did a lovely job reprising the Olympic Trials of 1968 last month! The features of our sport may also be found on Mike Fanelli’s Facebook! We thank Mike for his affection for the sport, emotion, and accuracy.

 

DAY THREE DIDN’T DAMPEN…Despite torrential off and on again showers, the fireworks at the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on this October 15th day, precisely 50 years ago, could not be extinguished.

Highlights included the men’s discus final, which, whilst interrupted by heavy rain, could not douse the indomitable Al Oerter. Despite coming into these Games with a neck injury and just four throws in excess of 200 feet, year to date, the three-time Olympic gold medalist would not be denied. Although the hypothetical experts had all but written him off, his Eastern Bloc competitors remained in awe. On his second heave, the platter landed 212′ 6 1/2″ from where it had been launched…good enough for a new Olympic record along with a five-and-a-half foot margin of victory over second place. More significantly, Big Al became the first Olympic athlete in history to take gold in their discipline of choice over four consecutive quadrennial contests. I have somewhat recently had the privilege of being in the presence of these four impressive ducats, which hang proudly in the New York Athletic Club Hall of Fame. Witnessing them firsthand sent shivers down my spine.
Just a little later on this same day three, ex -Boston University Terrier, Dave Hemery, who doubled as a Great Brit, had been slated as a likely bronze 400-meter hurdles medalist by no less than four out of the six pundits from Track & Field News. Instead, Hemery was out like a jackrabbit and split a blistering 23.0 at the midway marker. There was half a hurdle flight of sunlight between him and his nearest competitor. Hemery won going away by nearly an entire second while recording a new Olympic and World Record of 48.1, for which he was awarded the shiniest token of Olympic hardware available.
On the distaff side, long-legged Tennessee Tigerbelle Wyomia Tyus was actually the 100-meter favorite, and she did not disappoint. Tyus was golden in Tokyo four years earlier and was the ‘one to beat in ’68. To date in Olympic history, no one, not male or female, had ever repeated as the victor in the 100-meter dash. That is, until this particular day, in the lofty environs of the Mexican capital city that is situated some 7,350 breathless feet above sea level.

In an interview that took place just last week within the confines of that very same Olympic Stadium, Tyus reminisced, “It had been raining and raining, and we had two (false starts) in the race.” Tyus said as she stood in lane four, her starting block position in that distant race. “I remember we were walking back, and I was saying: “You guys need to stop. It’s gonna rain; it’s gonna rain! We don’t want to have to run in the rain!”

After the second false start and with the competitors making their way back to the blocks, Tyus recalled the rain stopped, if only for a moment.

“The gun went off, and we ran the whole 100 meters without any rain,” she said. “As soon as we crossed the finish, the sky just kind of opened up.

“Mexico City, finals of the 100 meters, was the best start I’ve ever had in my whole life.” Tyus said, “And it was the best time to have it.” And the rest, as they say, is Olympic history.

The final final on this moistened Monday was the two lapper. The unanimous pre-meet favorite was the 1964 bronze medalist, Wilson Kiprugut, who came in with the second fastest seasonal best of 1:45.7. The fastest time in the world to this point of the year was Duck alum Wade Bell’s 1:45.5. Unfortunately, like so many other participants of these Games, Bell came down with dysentery and did not make it out of the heats. Instead, the lone American half-mile finalist (and the very last qualifier from the semi-finals, was St. John’s grad via Archbishop Malloy, Tom Farrell.

Meanwhile, the ‘Down Under’ radar entrant, Ralph Doubell, would head to the starting line in between cloudbursts in a three-way tie for 16th fastest performer of the year while sporting an SB of just 1:47.2. While Doubell had a successful undercover season in the preceding winter, he had no competitions, only time trials ever since.

Oh, and it’s worth noting that all eight finalists were issued a ‘gimme’ when the American record holder at 1:44.9, Jim Ryun, decided to focus instead on the metric mile in his build-up for this track meet.

After one false start, the pistol fired and true to form, the Kenyan, Kiprugut, went straight to the fore and toured the first circuit in fifty-one flat. Doubell’s advanced strategy had been “no matter what, stay with Kip”. Part two of his plan, as conveyed in a remembrance many years later, was “wait, wait, wait…go with a hundred”. I’ll be damned if Doubell didn’t do justly that…a perfect execution. He stepped on the gas while emerging from the final turn and was past Kiprugut with 80 meters remaining. Kiprugut hung on gamely but Doubell was clearly motoring to victory. The real dogfight was for bronze with the American Farrell, who Sports Illustrated referenced as “a pint-sized version of Snell”, in hot pursuit of the Aussie. He continued his patented finishing drive all the way through the line and locked up solid bronze all to himself…in a personal best by 7/10s of a second, a really swell 1:45.4.

Doubell’s mark of 1:44.3 was good for the Olympic record and equaled the world’s best of the Kiwi, Peter Snell. Interestingly this mark was the Australian National Record until just this past July, when former Sudanese refugee Joseph Deng, who now makes Queensland his home, snipped .09 from the standard at the Monaco Diamond League Meeting. Doubell’s was an Australian record with a mighty long run, at forty-nine years, nine months, and five days.

…and that, my friends, concludes this day 3 recap of athletics from the XIX Olympic Games.

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