While the winning of almost any Olympic gold medal showers the champion with a certain charisma, the winner of the 100-meter running race always becomes particularly famous as “the world’s fastest human.”
The favorite to win this coveted title in the 1976 summer Olympics is a modest black high school boy named Houston McTeare This winter, he decisively defeated the reigning Olympic sprints champion, Valeri Borzov of Russia, and the Latin American champion, Jamaica’s Don Quarrie.
Correction please. While Borzov is usually called a Russian, he really is not Russian at all. He is from the Ukraine, which has a non-Russian language and culture — one of the 30 Captive Nations that have been conquered by the Soviet Union.
Houston McTear grew up, as one of ten children, in the utmost poverty. His father is now incapacitated by a stroke, requiring major brain surgery. In McTear’s first competition, he could not even afford track shoes and ran in ordinary sneakers. He had to practice the 200-yard dash by running down his school’s football field, then turning around and running back.
Last spring, after he was given a pair of real track shoes, McTear tied the world’s record for 100 yards by running it in nine seconds flat.
Now only 18 years old, Houston McTear is still improving and is expected to break all world and Olympic sprint records. Barring injury, we can look forward to watching him ascend the winner’s dais at the conclusion of the 1976 Olympic 100- and 200-meter races, and to sharing his pride in hearing our national anthem played in international triumph. I predict that, unlike two 1972 Olympic sprinters, young McTear will not make a radical clenched-fist gesture during the Star Spangled Banner.
While as a nation we have not yet solved all our social and economic problems, we can be proud that our free competitive system gives opportunities to every boy and girl to succeed, regardless of family poverty or disadvantages. The fact that the biggest winners are often those who had to overcome the most handicaps was illustrated again by the success stories of the former Detroit waitress, Sheila Young, and young Bill Koch in the winter Olympics.
Sheila Young won a gold, a silver and a bronze medal in speed skating, more medals than any other member of the American team. Bill Koch, only 20 years old, was the first American ever to win a medal in long-distance cross-country skiing. He finished second in one such event and was leading in the other when the strain of two such long grueling races in the bitter cold caused him to nearly collapse.
America’s athletes demonstrated in the winter Olympics that they have the will to win which is so conspicuously lacking in our foreign policy.