American domination of the men’s quarter mile is as complete as almost any other Olympic event and Ray Barbuti was among the early pioneers in this astonishing run of success.
Barbuti had been torn between a career in running and American football after a successful collegiate career in both sports, and he was finally chosen for the 400m and the relay by the selectors for the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.
The track and field events started badly for the U.S. team in Holland and much of it was surprisingly down to lacklustre preparation.
The U.S. trials were held only a matter of weeks before the big event and with a long travel time many of the athletes were under-cooked by the time the action got under way in the Olympic Stadium.
The huge number of competitors didn’t help either with 15 first-round heats and six second-round eliminators required to whittle the field down to the two six-man semi-finals.
However for all the congested build-up, Barbuti’s rugged, workman-like running style stood out and he was setting some of the fastest times in the first and second round.
He was edged into second place in his semi-final but he still qualified for the final which was run in appallingly wet and windy conditions.
However Barbuti’s raw power really told on the windswept track and he powered to a commanding lead through 300m.
Yet the pain was etched on his face as Canadian James Ball ate into his lead in the home straight and it was with some relief when Barbuti finished just two tenths clear of Ball in a time of 47.8secs.
It was the fastest time of the competition and no mean feat given the conditions.