- 27 Jul 1952
- Helsinki 1952
Relay quartet make Jamaica proud
Four years earlier in London Jamaica's 4x400m team had suffered a truly painful disappointment. They had set their sights on beating the mighty Americans and were on course to do so until Arthur Wint, running the third leg, pulled up with an injury and ended his country’s hopes.
Remarkably, the same four athletes – Wint, Leslie Laing, Herb McKenley and George Rhoden – made up the quartet that travelled to Helsinki. And their objective remained the same too: to beat the USA to the gold medal.
There were other contenders, of course, but few could see victory going to anyone other than the Americans or Jamaicans. In the heats and semis, both quartets justified their status as favourites, progressing to the final with ease. Wint, the 1948 Olympic 400m champion, ran the first leg, and found himself up against Ollie Matson, who would later become a professional American football player. Matson eked out a slight advantage for the USA, which lengthened when Gene Cole ran a particularly strong second leg. He outpaced Laing to leave the Jamaicans a good 10 metres adrift at the halfway mark.
But then McKenley produced something very special. He ran his lap in 44.6 seconds, some 1.7 seconds faster than the USA’s Charles Moore, to give the Jamaicans a narrow advantage going into the final 400m. It was now a race for the line between Rhoden, who had already won gold in the individual 400m final, and USA’s Mal Whitfield, who had finished just sixth in the same race.
Perhaps Whitfield saw this as a chance to banish memories of that disappointment. He chased Rhoden to the line, matching him stride for exhausting stride. In the end, the Jamaican prevailed by just 0.1 seconds. Jamaica had shattered the world record by the enormous margin of 4.3 seconds.
The victory gave Wint & Co their long awaited gold medals, and also sparked off huge celebrations back in Jamaica, where spontaneous street parties erupted and went on through the night