The amazing story of Remigino

Lindy Remigino, who had come from nowhere and was written off as a no-hoper by the American media, returned home to Hartford with two Olympic gold medals. In the span of one astonishing year he had gone from third placed sprinter in his college to Olympic champion. By GULU EZEKIEL.

Lindy Remigino, the 100m winner of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, was not among the world's best sprinters prior to these Games. He was not even among America's best. In fact, he was ranked only third even in his college sprint team! Yet this 21-year-old came out of virtual obscurity to snatch gold in a race, which saw a series of accidents and twists of fate.

At the age of 14, Lindy casually entered a race at the YMCA in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut. He won the 40-yard dash easily and then decided to take up track and field at the high school.

Lindy's initial attempts at the 400 metres ended in a disaster and it was only when the school's top sprinter reported sick just before a meet that Lindy was drafted in as a replacement. He charged down the track to win in 10.3. For Lindy, life would never be the same again. The years, 1950 and 1951, were disappointing for Lindy as he did nothing of note on the track. It was not until the year of the Olympics that he began to train hard with a goal in mind. His form continued to be erratic during the 1952 indoor season. Few gave him a chance of making it to Helsinki. One of those who kept his faith on him was his coach George Eastment who persuaded a friendly New York journalist to write an article praising his ward. That seemed to do the trick as Remigino grew in confidence and finally found the winning touch. Just in time too, as there were just three major meetings left before the boat would sail for Helsinki.

Strangely, it was a race in which he finished fifth that proved to be the turning point of his career. World number one Jim Golliday won it in 10.4 while Manhattan's Art Bragg was second. But Golliday pulled a muscle and was out of the running for the Olympics while another Manhattan college sprinter ranked ahead of Remigino, Andy Stanfield decided that he would run only in the 200 m.

At the Olympic trials, Lindy finished second to Bragg and the Manhattan pair along with third placed Dean Smith booked their berth to the Games. The US press, however, dismissed their chances of glory.

The favourites for the gold were Jamaica's Herb McKenley and the Trinidad-born McDonald Bailey of Britain. But Remigino was brimming with confidence at the practice sessions in Helsinki. He cruised through the first heat in 10.4, and finished his quarterfinal with the same time as well, still looking confident and relaxed just like his main rivals Bragg, Smith, McKenley and Bailey, all of them peaked in time for the final.

In their semis McKenley edged out Remigino by a whisker and now it was time for the final. But Art Bragg, the best bet for the US, finished last in his semis due to a pulled muscle. Now it was down to the quartet of McKenley, Bailey, Remigino and Smith all with a chance to win gold. Russia's Vladimir Sukharyev and Australia's John Treloar also were in the fray. In the final, it was Lindy who shot out of the blocks and surged ahead at the halfway mark. However, with 20 metres to go, the rest of the field began to catch up, particularly McKenley and Bailey. Remigino admitted he made an error at this stage that almost cost him the title — he leaned for the tape too early.

"I'm leaning and I didn't realise how far away I really was. So instead of hitting the tape and leaning, I started slowing up because my stride is getting shorter, then everyone is coming at me and as we hit the tape I thought McKenley had got me and I was angry because I thought I had blown it."

He very nearly did. This race was among the most dramatic finishes in Olympics history and even today there is disagreement over exactly what happened that day. Indeed at the end of the race Remigino congratulated McKenley as he was convinced that he was beaten.

The photo, however, showed Remigino had just edged out the Jamaican on the line by getting his shoulder there first, but the judges had to study it closely before making their decision. In the end it was Lindy by an inch in 10.4. Amazingly, the three who followed — McKenley, Bailey and Smith — all recorded 10.4 too with just 14 inches being the difference between the first and the fourth placed. It could not have been closer!

McKenley and the Jamaican contingent were sure he had won, but sportingly decided not to lodge a protest. There was little time for Lindy to celebrate however. He was part of the US team that was in the final of the 4x100 metres relay, a race they was won after escaping blunders.

So the runner, who had come from nowhere and was written of by the American media as a no-hoper, returned home to Hartford with two gold medals. In the span of one astonishing year he had gone from third placed sprinter in his college to Olympic champion!

Four years later he decided to switch to the 200 metres, but could not make it to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics team. And so a career, which began by chance at the age of 14 was over just before he turned 25.

After that he switched to coaching and for 50 years, Remigino carved out a niche for himself on the college circuit, winning a stack of titles and awards. The champion sprinter retired earlier this year. And as he approaches his 75th birthday in June he can look back on his achievements.