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21 Jul 1952
Helsinki 1952

Flying Remigino edges closest sprint in history

Today, advances in technology have made it much easier to measure the split seconds and the fractional distances that often determine the destiny of competitions in the modern Olympic Games. We have action replays, virtual timing bars, crystal-clear photo finishes and digital timing to the thousandth of a second.

Back in 1952, making such split-second calls was a much trickier business, and it was never harder than in the final of the men's 100m, a race that produced perhaps the closest finish in the event’s history. Six men crossed the line in the same tight photo frame. Look a little closer at that image and you'll see that two of them are just a small fraction behind the other four, and so are ruled out of a place on the podium. Two more are just a tiny distance away from the line, and both in contention for the bronze. And another two appear to be crossing the line together, with nothing to choose between them. The margin of victory, when it was announced, was miniscule.

The eventual winner, Lindy Remigino, almost failed to make the cut for Helsinki. The American, who was named after the aviator Charles Lindbergh, was not considered one of the nation's top three 100m sprinters, and he only made the team after one of his compatriots was injured and another chose to focus solely on the 200m.

Remigino seized his opportunity with aplomb. He qualified for the final comfortably and was leading clearly with 20m to go. But then, in his excitement, he began to lean too early and so slowed down slightly as he headed towards the line. Alongside him, the Jamaican Herb McKenley closed the gap and appeared to overtake Remigino as they crossed the line.

Remigino was convinced he had handed victory to McKenley. He even congratulated the Jamaican, but that remarkable photo was to tell a different story. The American’s right shoulder is ahead of McKenley's chest by one, or maybe two centimetres, and on that slender margin, he clinched the gold.

Both men were given the time of 10.4 seconds, as was Emmanuel ‘Mac’ Bailey of Great Britain in third. In fact, the same time was awarded to the USA’s Dean Smith, who finished fourth and must rate as one of the unluckiest Olympians of all time after matching the time of the 100m champion yet failing even to make the podium.

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