Friday, October 18, 2013

October 18, 1968: Mighty Burner Takes Olympic Silver

On this day in 1968, Villanova's legendary Larry James won a silver medal in the 400 meters at the Mexico City Olympics. In so doing, James became one of only two men at the time to break the 44 second barrier in the event. James finished second to his nemesis Lee Evans, who set a new world record of 43.86. Evans and James finished 1-2 at the US Olympic Trials, where (due to a technicality having to do with unsanctioned spikes won by Evans) James set the World Record of 44.1.

James and Evans were the top men in the world at the Olympic Games as well. In the 400 meter final, Evans won Gold with a time of 43.86. James was second, winning the Silver in 43.97; both broke the existing World Record. Evans and James were the first two men to run 400 meters in under 44 seconds (see photo below). The Americans swept the medals in the event when Ron Freeman cam third, in 44.41. Interesting, this Evans-James-Freeman finish at Mexico City was the identical finishing trio at the 1968 NCAA championships in Berkeley, California. James won a Gold medal at the Mexico City Games as well, running the third leg in the USA's World Record-setting 4 x 400 meter relay team. Vince Matthews, Ron Freeman, Larry James, and Lee Evans crushed the opposition -- defeating the Kenyan team by 3.5 seconds -- in running 2:56.16. This World Record stood from 1968 until 1992.

1968 Olympics: 400 meter medalists
1. Lee Evans (USA)     43.8  WR
2. Larry James (USA)   43.9
3. Ron Freeman (USA)   44.4

While at Villanova, James was a four-time NCAA individual champion. He won the NCAA outdoor title at 440 yards in 1970 (45.5). James won the NCAA 440 yard indoor titles in 1968, 1969, and 1970. He was part of 6 Penn Relays championship relay squads from 1968 through 1970, and was 10-time IC4A champion (5 outdoor and 5 indoor).

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