Hometown Report

Hometown Report: Olympic champion Jim Hines has special memories of ‘Night of Speed’ in Sacramento

Joe Davidson
Joe Davidson

J im Hines electrified in his day. He still does, albeit with words and not wheels.

Once the fastest man alive, Hines is now 67, looking fit and always eager to discuss track and field. He holds a special place in sprinting lore, be it for his record exploits in Sacramento on the hard-clay track at Hughes Stadium in 1968 on the famed “Night of Speed,” when he was the first to crack the 10-second barrier in the 100-meter dash; or his sizzling effort later that summer at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, where Hines won the 100 in 9.95 seconds, a world record he held for 15 years.

“That title – ‘World’s Fastest Human’ – how many millions would love to have that?” Hines said recently when he was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame as a standout at McClymonds High School in Oakland. “The 100-meter dash is the greatest event in the Olympics. It’s man versus man. It’s the purest event.”

Usain Bolt of Jamaica is the world’s fastest now, although the competitive juices still flow through Hines.

“Mr. Usain Bolt is the horse of the day,” Hines said. “But if I could race him in my prime, I’d be breathing down his neck.”

There was a lot of heavy breathing on the “Night of Speed” when, in a span of 21/2 hours at the AAU Championships, the world mark in the 100 was broken by three men and tied by seven others. Hines won a semifinal by a breath over Ronny Ray Smith as both are credited with 9.9-second efforts, and Charlie Greene tied the 9.9 in winning the final by just out-leaning Hines, who later said: “There will never be another night like it” and, “That was the greatest ever.”

When Hines won the 100 at the 1968 Games, a 9.89 registered on the screen, from a light beam across the finish line. It was later corrected to 9.95. Hines said at the Hall of Fame event, “They changed it because no one could believe a man could run that fast.”

Other stirring track moments in Sacramento history:

Smith sizzles, 1966 – In the All-American Invitational at Hughes, Tommie Smith of San Jose State set the world record in the 220-yard dash in 20.0 seconds, and it was also a world record for the slightly shorter 200 meters. He won Olympic gold in the 1968 Games in Mexico City, where he made his memorable black-gloved fist protest on the victory stand.

Super powers collide, 1972 – The USA-USSR junior track showdown at Hughes Stadium featured USC freshman Randy Williams of Fresno stunning the Soviets with a wind-aided long jump of 27 feet, 4.5 inches. He went on to win gold in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

Carl Lewis arrives, 1981 – At 19, University of Houston star Carl Lewis had his coming-out showcase at Hughes Stadium in the TAC National Championships. He cleared 28 feet, 73/4 inches in the long jump, wind-aided, and his legal 28-31/2 was the second best in history behind Bob Beamon’s 29-21/2 in 1968. Lewis also won the 100 in 10.13, raising his arms in triumph seven meters before the finish in becoming the first since Jesse Owens in the 1930s to double in those events.

United Kingdom, 1984 – Weeks before the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Hughes Stadium hosted an international meet, where fast-rising Roger Kingdom won the 110 hurdles in a wind-aided 13.0 seconds, the second fastest in history under any conditions. Kingdom won Olympic gold in L.A.

MJ Express, 1995 – The USA Track & Field Championships at Hughes Stadium included headliner Michael Johnson, who became the first man to win the 200 and 400 in the same national meet since 1899. He won both in the 1996 Olympics, including the 200 in a record 19.32.

USA record haul, 2000 – The U.S. Olympic Trials were held on the new Mondo track at Sac State, where the event shattered attendance records. Gail Devers obliterated her American-record time in the 100 hurdles in 12.33 seconds, the fourth fastest in world history. Stacy Dragila of Auburn broker her own world record in the pole vault at 15 feet, 21/4 inches.

Triumphant return, 2004 – The Olympic Trials returned to Sac State and drew 172,230 fans, second only to the 2000 event at Hornet Stadium. Maurice Greene set a Trials record in the 100 in 9.91 with Justin Gatlin clocking a 9.92 and Shawn Crawford going 9.93.