Sunday, September 22, 2013

1964 Tokyo Olympics - Bob Hayes

One of the outstanding athletes of the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 was Robert Lee Hayes – nicknamed with considerable justification as “Bob the Bullet” because of his amazing feats as a sprinter.

Hayes was a strong and muscular man – around 1.8 m in height (5’11”) and tipping the scales at 84 kg (185 lb), with a bullocking running action that relied on sheer power rather than a classical style. But because of his great strength he was able to light up the track and accelerate away from the opposition in a stunning burst of speed. He was not a Formula 1 runner such as we saw later with the great Carl Lewis. Rather he was a V8 dragster, and the power plant he developed turned out to be one of the greatest in the history of track and field.

Bob "the Bullet" Hayes at speed. He relied on his great strength to generate record breaking times. (Image form Wikipedia Commons) 

Born in 1942, he hit the peak of his powers as an athlete just in time for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 where he became officially the worlds fastest human after winning the 100 metres in a world record time of 10.06 seconds. This was an amazing time taking into account the fact he was running on a cinder track (much slower than the modern synthetic surface) that had been chopped up by a previous race and also wearing borrowed shoes.

Footage of his fantastic run can be seen at

He really hit the world headlines with that win but a few events later, the men’s 4x100 metre relay, saw him cement his name into Olympic legend with one of the great runs of modern history.

The Tokyo Olympic Stadium in 1964 - scene of Bob Hayes' triumph. (Image form Wikipedia Commons)

Hayes was running the last leg for the United States and received the baton in a terrible position – some 4 to 5 metres behind the field. With only about 100 metres to run this would normally be a hopeless situation, but Hayes was not normal, even by Olympic standards. 

He was a slow starter off the blocks because he had a lot of machinery to move and it took a few paces to find his rhythm and balance. The running start of the relay suited him far better.

He blasted into action and hit top gear almost immediately and in the words of one press account “ exploded down the track in an eruption of speed never witnessed before or since”. He rocketed past the field in a little over 50 metres and was accelerating away from his nearest rival when he hit the tape in a new world record time of 39.0 seconds. It was an awesome display of power running that has never been duplicated in any Olympic games since.

A lot of conjecture has followed down the years about how good Hayes really was. It seems to be the consensus amongst experts that had he run on synthetic tracks with modern shoes and with electronic timing he would be right up there with the very best of today.

After he retired from athletics Bob Hayes joined the Dallas Cowboys as a wide receiver where his unstoppable speed forced opposition teams to change their entire defensive pattern. He became one of the all time great professional footballers and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. He is the only man to win both an Olympic Gold medal and a Super Bowl Ring.

Robert Lee Hayes passed away in 2002, following a bout of prostate cancer. He left behind a legacy that will never be forgotten in the world of sports.