The Longer Run
FULL TITLE: The Longer Run: A Daughter’s Memoir of Arthur Wint
A star was born on March 25, 1920 in the quiet rural community of Plowden in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica. Arthur Stanley Wint is perhaps best known as Jamaica’s first Olympic Gold Medallist and has been profiles as such in his native island’s rich athletic history. However, little is known of the man who trained to become a Royal Air Force pilot and broke the Canadian 400m record while doing so; or the British trained surgeon who returned to Jamaica in 1963, eventually settling in Hanover as the only resident doctor and treating the poor for free; or the diplomat who was awarded the Order of Distinction, in 1973 and served as Jamaica’s High Commissioner to the UK.
In The Longer Run, Valerie Wint paints a vivid and rounded portrait of a father, husband, teammate and friend who always managed to remain humble in spite of his professional successes and personal trials. She gives readers access to the life story of an enigmatic figure who towered above most in stature but lived quietly as a gentle giant.
Almost 20 years after his passing, the story of Arthur Wint lives on and continues to inspire. It is a story of discipline, courage, determination and most of all, love for family and country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Valerie Wint is the eldest daughter of Arthur Wint and currently resides in Canada with her family.
Excerpt from The Longer Run
I’ve never seen my father run – at least not competitively. All his running fame came before I was born, or when I was still a small baby. I learnt that he was famous and an athlete by osmosis over the years, and knew that he had won two Olympic gold medals, but I never saw his prowess first-hand. Throughout my young life I never saw footage of his races, but I knew about them, especially the big ones.
So it was that sometime before the 1988 Olympics in Seoul my daughter Anna and I were watching an Olympic special on TV. It was a retrospective on the 1948 Games, and we knew from the description that they would be looking at that fateful relay in which he pulled up lame and lost the race.
As we got closer to the time, I became more and more tense. I was clutching a pillow to my chest and starting to hyperventilate. The race came on, and I started to sob uncontrollably. Anna was saying, ‘Calm down, Mum,’ but I couldn’t calm down, because I knew what was going to happen and in part I didn’t want to see it. This is a story I’ve heard throughout my life, but I had never actually seen it. Now it was real, made flesh. I saw my father fall on the field in agony, physical and emotional agony. He hopped off the track clutching the back of his leg, fell onto the inner field, and beat the grass with the baton. He and the other three runners – McKenley, Rhoden, Laing – were highly favoured to win this race, because my father and McKenley had already placed one and two in the 400 metres. The disappointment must have been overwhelming.
I’ve seen other runners fall, and because my father’s story was always with me, I felt tremendous empathy for them – the New Zealand steeplechaser in the 1970 Commonwealth Games; Jamaican Bert Cameron in the 1984 Olympics; and Canadian hurdler Perdita Felicien who fell in the 2004 Athens Games. My father was devastated by the failed 4×400 metres attempt in 1948. He was a team player, who always wanted what was best for the team and was not simply seeking personal glory. He felt he had let down his team.
Only four days before the relay, Arthur had garnered silver in the 800 metres, coming in behind American rival Mal Whitfield, and thus winning Jamaica’s very first ever Olympic medal. When asked to recall that race in a Sports Illustrated interview in 1983, my father explained the strategic mistake that prevented his winning the gold medal:
It was a total error on my part. I should have won and broken the Olympic record. Marcel Hansenne of France had had the fastest time in the semis, so I decided I’d just shadow him. Whitfield ran around into the lead and I dismissed him. I didn’t go after him. Then, when I saw he was getting away, I was boxed between two Frenchmen [Hansenne and Robert Chef d’hotel].
Two days later, on August 5, two days before the relay, my father and his teammate Herb McKenley ran in the final of the 400 metres. McKenley was highly favoured to win this race, and was very popular with Jamaicans at home. Throughout the War, he had been on a track scholarship in the US, and had been excelling in the 100, 200 and 400 metre races. Of course, being not so far from home, he had returned to Jamaica many times, and his successes in the US were well reported in Jamaica. Arthur had been away from Jamaica since 1942, and collective memory being short, not many people remembered his schoolboy athletic promise, or had heard about his triumphs on the amateur athletics circuit in Great Britain. He was now a relative unknown.
Arthur was running in second place behind Herb around the final curve, with Mal Whitfield (US) coming third. He was happy to come second to Herb. However, not too far from the finish line, Arthur realised that Herb was flagging, and he had a split-second decision to make. He had been content to let Herb win, but he was certainly not content to let Herb lose, to let Jamaica lose, nor to hand the race over to the American. So he sped up, passed McKenley, and so won Jamaica’s first-ever Olympic Gold. McKenley says that he heard Arthur’s thundering footsteps coming up behind him, closing the gap. He subsequently overtook his teammate and countryman to garner gold. The British spectators, along with the Jamaican and other Caribbean people in the stadium, all rose as one and cheered the one-two victory of Wint and McKenley. The photograph taken at the medal ceremony shows Arthur bending to have the medal placed around his neck. Herb is looking on from the number two spot, with a disappointed, almost bitter expression on his face. The gold had been snatched from him, but there was every hope for a gold in the relay.
Arthur had done what no other Jamaican had ever done before: he had won a gold medal at the Olympic Games. It was an exhilarating triumph. His teammate Herb McKenley had come in second, and together with George Rhoden and Les Laing, they intended to make new history this day, favoured, as they were to win the 4×400 metres relay. The only serious competition was the American team, and the Jamaicans had a fighting chance of beating them. Also because of the excitement of Arthur’s earlier exploits in the Games and his fame in British amateur athletics, the British crowd was solidly behind them.
Early on the morning of Saturday, August 7, 1948, Arthur Wint got out of bed. It was a beautiful, warm morning, another in the string of hot, hazy days that Britain had been experiencing. It was a day that would remain with him for the rest of his life. It should have been a day of utter glory.
The Jamaican men took it easy that morning as they started their day in the former war barracks near Wembley Stadium. They went for a gentle walk to limber up, but no serious training that day. All the pre-race work would be mental. As they walked they talked about other matters not related to the race.
After a light lunch, they headed for the stadium to prepare, physically and mentally, for the challenge ahead. They dressed in their warm-up gear and went out to the area specifically designated for warm-ups. After about 45 minutes of jogging, they ran through their strategy for the race, and practised their baton changes. Back in the locker room, they showered and rubbed themselves down, changed into their cool, fresh race gear with 15 minutes to go before they had to report to the field. That quarter hour was spent in total relaxation. Arthur lay on the floor with his legs up the wall and his eyes closed, having arranged for someone to call him in time. He did not sleep during that time, but meditated. He would not have called it meditation in 1948, but in shutting out the exterior world, stilling his thoughts, and breathing deeply, he was in fact meditating. The other team members also relaxed in their own ways. This quiet time helped to focus their minds on the race.
The foursome headed out to the track to report for their race a little before 3:00 pm. There was quite a crowd waiting to run – as this was a race in which each person ran a quarter mile, one full lap of the track, all the runners were at or near the starting line. The Jamaicans offered best wishes to all their rivals, including the American team – a graciousness no longer seen in high performance sports today.
Roger Bannister, who later broke the four-minute mile record, knew Arthur well, and speaks of him in his autobiography The Four-Minute Mile. He calls the fated race ‘perhaps the most moving and tragic moment of the whole Games.’ He describes the race:
Rhoden was the first runner for Jamaica and finished level with his American opponent, Harnden. The second Jamaican runner Laing, a sprinter gallantly trying to race twice his normal distance, handed over to Wint twelve yards behind Cochran, the American Olympic 400 metres hurdles champion. Could Wint and McKenley win this margin back from Cochran and Whitfield? It seemed unlikely…. With enormous strides he flashed around the first bend. Normally Arthur Wint’s running seemed deceptively slow, but this time there was no mistaking his speed and urgency.
As he entered the back straight he gained on Cochran with each stride, but suddenly his body convulsed and he flung himself on the grass verge, his face distorted with the agony of a searing muscle pull….I did not see Cochran steaming home to give Whitfield a commanding lead, but remained staring at the prostrate figure of Arthur Wint, thumping the turf with baton and fist in exasperation, oblivious to the comforting enquiries of his fellow Jamaicans.
Herb McKenley told me that when Arthur beat the track with the baton that was the closest to being angry he had ever seen him. McKenley had lost the 400 metres to him, which he had thought he was going to win:
I was extremely disappointed, to say the least. And then came the relay, and I wanted very much to show that my being beaten wasn’t a matter of my not having [what it takes]. I was to get the baton from him, and then [he pulled up]. He hadn’t gone very far, because he had just taken the baton. It happened around the middle of the turn. I think what happened is that the American had quite a bit of yardage on him. Arthur usually is a person who starts relatively slow, but he was running from day one this time, and I suppose he was probably not accustomed to get out so quickly. I think it might have been caused from his going out full blast immediately. That’s probably what happened. And when I saw him, I was of a mind just to start running, then I said, ‘what for? The man needs your support.’ And I went over to him, and of course both of us started crying, and when the other two came all four of us were crying.
He had not only lost the race, he had let his team down. This, coupled with the pain in his leg, was more than he could bear. He crossed his arm across his eyes and leaned into Herb, sobbing on his shoulder. His brother Lloyd, who was in the stands watching the race, says he came down onto the field in concern for his brother:
When Arthur pulled his muscle in 1948 I was the first person on that track. I ran through the race. I ran down from my seat, the race was still going on, and I ran straight across the track. There are about three different newsreels of that, and there is one particular one, you’ll see me in there in a brown suit. I picked him up off the ground. And nobody tried to stop me.
The medical team came out and carried Arthur off, accompanied by the other three very dejected relay athletes. Almost no one noticed the Americans winning the race.
Roger Bannister feels that Arthur had run too many races in too short a time, what with the various heats, semi-finals and finals, and was simply exhausted. McKenley feels he started out too fast when he received the baton from Laing, trying to close the gap with the American. His usual race strategy was to start relatively slowly, and to build up speed over the distance, but not this time. Whatever the reason, it was just too much, and his leg cramped.
That was the end of the 1948 Olympic Games for Arthur, but certainly not the end of his athletic career.