Henry Carr didn’t have the longevity of Olympic track legends like hurdler Edwin Moses or sprinter/long jumper Carl Lewis. But to those who witnessed and remembered what he accomplished at the Tokyo Olympics in October 1964, his greatness as a runner left an indelible impression.
Carr passed away on May 29 at age 73 in Griffin, Georgia, after a long battle with cancer, and his funeral was held on June 6.
In the days since his passing, Carr, a two-time gold medalist (200 meters, 4×400 relay anchor) at the Tokyo Games, has returned to the media spotlight at a time when surviving Olympians from his era are decreasing each year and fading from public memory.
Fellow American gold medalist Billy Mills, who captured the 10,000-meter title with a remarkable finish that’s been recognized as one of the greatest running performances in Olympic history on the same National Stadium track, offered a heartfelt summary of Carr’s characteristics as a runner and a man in an interview.
“Looking back, I remember Henry Carr as a true gentleman with a gentleness and level of confidence seldom witnessed in an athlete, displaying power, strength and a quiet spirituality,” said Mills, who turns 77 on June 30, told The Japan Times. “To watch him run was to witness music, dance and song.
“I remember seeing Henry and (his wife) Glenda in the Olympic Village, always happy, always connected with one another. He was an athletic icon, awaiting his destiny, while I was but a dream, too insecure to open up a dialogue with him, which was my loss.”
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, and raised in Detroit, Carr was the ninth of 11 children. A prep track star at Detroit Northwestern High, his amazing speed inspired his nickname, “Gray Ghost.” He also starred on the school’s basketball and football squads.
At Arizona State, Carr gained widespread recognition for his supreme track talent. In March 1963, he set a world record at 220 yards (20.3 seconds) in a meet against Utah and USC in Tempe, Arizona. In April ’64, he lowered his world record to 20.2, also in Tempe. He won the NCAA title for 200 meters in ’63 and shared the top spot with Paul Drayton in the same race that year at the AAU nationals. (Track and Field News penciled in Carr No. 1 in its 200-meter world rankings in 1963 and ’64.)
This set the stage for Carr’s gold-medal exploits in Tokyo, where he established an Olympic record of 20.3 seconds to claim the win, followed by Drayton in 20.5.
On Oct. 21, the American quartet of Ollan Cassell, Mike Larrabee, Ulis Williams and Carr captured the 4×100 relay gold with a blistering world-record time of 3 minutes, 0.7 seconds.
Larrabee, who won the gold in the 400, passed away at age 69 in April 2003.
Contacted by The Japan Times, the two surviving runners from the relay foursome spoke fondly about the special impact that the race had on their lives and about Carr’s sublime skills as an athlete.
“He indeed was the second-most talented athlete I ever saw,” said Cassell, who held a number of key leadership positions in American and global track and field, including the IAAF vice presidency from 1976-99. “The first was (‘Bullet’) Bob Hayes.
“We did not see each other often but kept a lifelong affinity for the relay members.”
Cassell, who resides in Indianapolis, remembers two special occasions when the four men were together years later. The first occasion, he said, was at one of USA Track and Field’s annual conventions, where he was honored while serving as the executive director. When Williams became Compton (California) Community College president in 1996, they reunited once more.
“My fondest memory was of Henry crossing the finishing line in the 4×400 relay there in Tokyo at the Olympics,” Cassell told The Japan Times.
That erased doubts that had formed in Cassell’s mind before their glorious achievement.
“I personally had my own reservations about Henry’s selection for the 4×400 relay mainly because he had not run a 400 meters since sometime in June,” Cassell admitted this week.
“However, my concern was relieved during that training session with Mike and I during the 200-meter training session. My feelings were if Henry can outrun both of us in shoes with no spikes and wearing a sweat suit, he could handle the 400-meter anchor.”
In a 1992 article, the Chicago Tribune recounted the 4×400 final, noting that Cassell, Larrabee and Williams had “built a five-meter lead for Carr, but halfway through the final lap 400-meter silver medalist Wendall Mottley of Trinidad pulled even.
“The tie was momentary. Carr switched gears and steadily pulled away from the best 400-meter runners in the world,” the Tribune reported.
New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley described Carr’s post-race jubilation as one that mirrored the euphoric moment that 4×100 anchor Hayes had used to punctuate his medal-clinching victory when he “flung his baton joyously in the air.”
On Dec. 1, 1964, there was official national recognition for Carr and 107 other U.S. Olympians: a White House state luncheon, which began with cream of spinach soup. According to published reports, President Lyndon Johnson told the gathered Olympians, “You demonstrated winning without strutting and losing without whimpering . . . it is such a privilege to have you here in the first house of the land. It is equally satisfying to have in this house some of the first of the land.”
Indeed, Carr’s victory-clinching dash helped secure his place in the Arizona State University Sports Hall of Fame (1975, charter inductee) and USA Track and Field Hall of Fame (1997).
After the Tokyo Games, Carr’s speed and gridiron talents elevated him to a fourth-round draft pick (43rd overall) in the 1965 NFL Draft. He played three seasons in the Giants secondary, including a 100-yard interception against the L.A. Rams, before a knee injury cut short his football career.
“Henry was a very sincere person and later in life became a minister with his own church (Jehovah’s Witnesses),” Cassell said.
“I think his greatest qualities were (he was) very sincere about his beliefs and confidence in himself. He was a quiet man who let his actions speak louder than his words. He would let other people describe what he did.”
For Cassell, Carr’s determination to “get back in prime condition for the Olympics after almost not being in the top three at the final U.S. Olympic trials left a lasting impression.
“That seemed to be wake-up time for him and where he realized he must do some hard training,” added Cassell. “Remember there was almost three months between the first trials in June in New York and the second trial in L.A. He did not train very hard, with no racing, during that period being away from school and his college coach and training partner Ulis.
“After he was confirmed for the team, he and Ulis would train twice a day to make sure he was in the best possible condition.”
Born nearly a month apart, Carr, whose birthday was Nov. 27, 1941, and Williams were Arizona State track teammates — along with Mike Barrick and Ron Freeman they ran a then-world record mile relay time of 3:04.5 in 1963 — before bringing their immense talents to Team USA.
In a 1995 interview, former ASU track coach Baldy Castillo described Carr as “the best track man, sprinter-wise, I ever coached. If he were running today, he’d be a millionaire,” The Arizona Republic quoted him as saying.
Williams recognizes Carr’s singular focus propelled him to greatness in athletics.
“Henry took his job very seriously,” Williams said by phone from California. “Henry was the kind of person that showed what he did. He didn’t really talk about it before. He didn’t need all that hype and getting himself excited.
“He trained hard, but he wasn’t like different athletes that think they are bigger than life . . . (proclaiming), ‘I’m great, I’m great.’ But Henry never did that.”
He added: “He didn’t try to promote himself. You just wouldn’t identify him that way. . . . He came to do his job and he did his job. . . . He trained hard, he ran hard and that was his satisfaction rather than people patting him on the back and all that kind of stuff.”
Carr cherished his friendships, but was never the most outspoken or outgoing person in social settings, Williams said. “He wouldn’t be the leader of the noise making,” he said.
“He was a nice guy, a supportive guy who would do whatever he can to support you, but he was not interested in being the leader of the party,” Williams recalled.
More than 50 years later, Williams, the planned anchor, was asked why the speedy Carr was a good choice to run the final 400 meters in the relay in Tokyo.
Williams admitted he sustained an injury earlier that year, a severe thigh strain during an indoor meet at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. “I never really fully recovered in time,” he says now, adding, “so when it came time for the relay I asked the coach if I could have a meeting with the team.” And this happened after the preliminary races in preparation for the final.
The coach accepted Williams’ request for a meeting. He then said, “I didn’t feel comfortable having the last chance at the gold medal, because I’m not running my best. I placed fifth in the 400 meters. I just wasn’t at my best. . . . and we hadn’t made a decision yet and I was just telling them how I feel, that kind of thing. And the teammates had a chance to say something and it got to Henry . . . and he said he was confident (in his ability to triumph): ‘I don’t care where I run, I’m going to do my job.’
“And then everybody pointed their fingers (at Henry) and said, ‘Well you anchor then with that attitude.”
The rest is history.
The shared experience of capturing the gold medal on that autumn day in 1964 has stayed with the four men for their entire lives.
Just ask Williams.
“I don’t care how long you’ve been apart, when you see them it’s a feeling that you know that you have. You can feel that feeling that it’s something special among us.”
And for the two ex-Sun Devils, “every time we talked we would talk about that subject,” Williams revealed. “It never went untalked about,” he went on, saying, “somehow the conversation came up. It never dulled, it was always alive . . .”
In closing, Williams said the gold-medal triumph “propels your life somewhat” and “we could depend on (Carr) doing what he always does: his best. . . . You might lose some ground, but we had Henry to recover if we needed to, and he always did that.”
Opportunity for growth: Shinri Shioura, a rising star in the pool, is training in Italy in preparation for the 2015 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Kazan, Russia. He arrived at the ADN Swim Project on June 4 to work with several world-class athletes, becoming the first elite Japanese swimmer to do so.
For the upcoming worlds, the swimming portion of the 16-day extravaganza is scheduled for Aug. 2-9, and Shioura’s Italian mentor recognizes the value of his preparations for the global championships in a high-caliber environment.
“It is always great to put together the best specialists for one event/distance,” head coach and technical director Andrea Di Nino, the founder of the ADN Swim Project, which is based in Caserta, Italy, about 40 km north of Naples, told The Japan Times in an interview this week.
“Every practice is a new challenge for all of them, ‘raising the bar’ of the daily intensity and attention. Plus this group fits perfectly together in terms of age, goals and motivation.”
Shioura, a 23-year-old native of Kanagawa Prefecture, earned a bronze medal in the 4×100 medley relay at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona.
A 50-meter freestyle specialist, Shioura last year became the first Japanese to clock under 22 seconds for that distance.
This weekend, Shioura was scheduled to be put to the test at the 52nd Settecolli Internazionali d’Italia di Nuoto meet in Rome.
Di Nino’s training camp counterparts include George Bovell, a former Olympic medalist and Ukraine’s Andriy Govorov, both of whom have also have sub-22-second times in the 50 free. Other sprint specialists based at ADN are Russian Oleg Tikhobaev and Francois Heersbrandt of Belgium.
Asked to give his current assessment of Shioura and what he can expect to improve over the next few months while training under his watchful eye, responded by saying, “It’s hard to say only after a couple of sessions before the (Settecolli) meet, his first competition in Europe, but I think Shinri has a lot of talent and it’s clear that his coach in Japan and all the Japanese coaching staff that have worked with him (did) an excellent job.
“Right now we are starting to focus on the start, for example. Practicing daily with Bovell, one of the best starters in the world, is for sure a great opportunity to work on small details.”
In a recent press release issued to Swimming World Magazine, Di Nino commented on the significance of Shioura’s decision to train at ADN.
“The arrival of Shioura to ADN is yet another demonstration that our technical project is in line with what the athletes are seeking to improve their performance in order to achieve new goals,”the 42-year-old Di Nino, a Rome native, was quoted as saying. “And for us it is a source of pride, with Shinri being the first Japanese swimmer to (train) in Europe. I am convinced that the city of Caserta, and all our team, will make this training period with Shioura pleasant and challenging.”
After the overseas success of earlier generations of Japanese soccer and baseball players, including in Europe and North America, respectively, their compatriots had a recognized path to work as professional athletes overseas. Similarly, if Shioura’s training in Italy proves to be a springboard for success in Kazan, Di Nino recognizes the swimmer could be blazing a new trail for Japanese swimming.
“First of all, his arrival is important for ADN,” the coach said. “It’s a great pleasure and motivation for our technical staff and our swimmers to learn new things and another approach from a swimmer that is coming from such different background in terms of culture and sport attitude. It will be great for us to create a strong link with the Japan Swimming Federation.
“(But) this will be possible only if Shinri will enjoy his stay here and of course if this period will be considered technically beneficial for him by the Japanese Federation.”
Analyzing the 188-cm Shioura’s ability in the pool, Di Nino observed that “I can see a great capacity to ‘glide’ through the water. This means that Shinri has a genetic talent to reduce his passive and active drag during the underwater phase and during the swimming phase.”
What’s the focal point of Shiora’s training in Italy?
“One of his personal goals is to try to get more power, in and out of the water,” said Di Nino.