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14 Oct 1968
Mexico 1968

Record-breaker Hines goes sub-10 to take 100m gold

Fans, journalists and, if they're honest, athletes – we all like the concept of a historic target to aim at. The four-minute mile, for instance, was an obsession of middle-distance runner for years. For sprinters, it was the 10-second 100m. For year after year, sprinters had been closing in on a 100m time that dipped under the 10-second barrier. And for years, they hadn't been getting there.

Robert Hayes has equalled the world record in the 1964 Games by running the race in 10 seconds flat. Three other men had all recorded the same time.

It wasn't until 1968 that someone finally achieved the mark, and it was an American who did it.  James Hines, known as Jim, was competing in the American national championships when he clocked a hand-timed 9.9secs in winning the final. He had actually set a time of 9.8secs in the heats, but that was not considered a record as the wind assistance was too strong.

The performance was good enough to mark him out as the man to beat in the Olympic 100m. A strong field also included Jamaica's Lennox Miller and another American, Charlie Greene, Hines's long-time rival.

He coasted easily enough through his first two heats before turning up the speed in the semi-final, where he was timed at 10.0secs, joining the large group of athletes who now jointly held the official world record. Among them – Greene, who had run 10.0secs in his second heat.

So now only two questions  remained – who would take gold, and would that person dip under ten seconds in the Olympic final? When the starting pistol went, Hines made a great start – he later said it was the best start of his athletics career – but trailed the American Melvin Pender. At the halfway point Pender had faded and Hines was level with Greene, pushing each other to the limit. Fractionally, Hines moved further and further ahead. As the race neared its end, Greene started to suffer from cramp and lost out to Miller on the line in the battle for silver. The gold, though, was decided.

Hines had won by 0.09secs. His time recorded as 9.95secs – not just an Olympic record but a world record that would stand for 15 years. Hines was not finished, though. He then ran a blistering final leg in the 4x100m relay to lead USA to gold. It was, he said. “the fastest I ever ran in my life”, and it took his team from sixth to first in the space of 100m.  Shortly after returning from Mexico, Hines came home to his Houston apartment to discover he'd been burgled. Thieves had taken jewellery, his TV, his stereo and, worst of all, his Gold medals. Desperate, Hines placed an advert in his local newspaper asking for the medals back and eventually they arrived, in a plain brown envelope.

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