Vince MATTHEWS

Vince Matthews - U.S.A. - 400m Gold medals at 1968 & 1972 Olympic Games.

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Date: 20 October 1968

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    • DATE OF BIRTH
      Tuesday, 16 December 1947
    • PLACE OF BIRTH
      Queens, New York, U.S.A.
  • INTERNATIONAL
  • U.S.A.
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Vince MATTHEWS - U.S.A. - 400m Gold medals at 1968 & 1972 Olympic Games.

 

Vince Matthews was one of a fine crop of American quarter milers to appear in the mid 1960s, and developed a fierce rivalry with future Olympic champion Lee Evans. The pair first met in their teens, and then duelled several times in 1967, with Evans coming out on top in the US Championships and Pan American Games. After these and other losses, "beating Lee" became something of an obsession for Vince and he managed it three times in succession later in the year in Montreal, Dusseldorf and London. In 1968 Vince ran a world best of 44.4sec in Lake Tahoe shortly before the Trials for the Mexico Olympics, but his time was not recognised due to his use of Puma's illegal "brush spikes". At the Trials themselves (also at Lake Tahoe), he was then beaten out of the top three by Evans, Larry James and Ron Freeman, with Evans also "not" breaking the world record in brush spikes in a time of 44.06sec.

 

In Mexico, the Americans made short work of the opposition in the 400m, securing a 1-2-3 in the open event before winning the 4x400m relay in a world record time of 2.56.16sec. Vince ran a solid opening leg of 45sec before Ron Freeman's 43.2sec destroyed the rest of the field. However, despite the team's astonishing performance, they are remembered more for their support of the Black Power Movement on the medal rostrum than their exploits on the track. After Mexico, Matthews graduated from University and gave up track and field for a time as he struggled with the demands of work and marriage. However, the competitive fire remained within him and salvation came in the form of club athletics in his home town of New York. Despite less than perfect training conditions and all the difficulties that come with being a part time athlete, Vince somehow worked his way back to full fitness and into contention for the 1972 Olympics. (Jon Collins)

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 In 1972, Vince Matthews found himself regularly travelling all the way from New York to California to find competitive races, and was only able to make the Olympic Trials thanks to the generosity of a local bank. At the Trials themselves, Vince finished third behind John Smith and Wayne Collett in a time of 44.9sec, beating old rival Lee Evans into fourth. American officialdom, dismayed at the failure of their favourite Evans, made Vince feel extremely unwelcome and unsuccessfully attempted to get the reigning Olympic Champion back in at his expense. In Munich, all three Americans made the final where the US media predicted victory for Smith. However, when Smith pulled up lame after 80 metres, the race turned into a battle between Matthews and Collett. Vince was shocked to find himself leading going into the final bend, but drew on all his emotions and inner strength to pull away for the line in a winning time of 44.66sec, with Collett coming second in 44.80sec.

 

Unfortunately, the triumph was tarnished by the inane behaviour of Matthews and Collett during the medal ceremony, leading many to believe it was a protest like 1968. The pair denied any deliberate wrongdoing, but were banned from future Olympic competition by the IOC. This debacle and John Smith's injury meant that the USA no longer had enough men to fill a relay team and were forced to withdraw from the contest. Despite the criticism, Vince later revealed to the New York Times how important his victory was to him "A lot of people had forgotten about me and given up on me. Twenty years from now, I can look at this medal and say, "I was the best quarter-miler in the world that day". If you don't think that's important, you don't know what's inside an athlete's soul." Vince's struggle is told vividly in the book "My Race Be Won", the title of which is taken from a poem penned by Matthews himself called "The Trackman's Prayer". (Jon Collins)


Men's 400m. Final. Olympic Games 1972
1. Vincent MATTHEWS   USA   44.66
2. Wayne COLLETT   USA   44.80
3. Julius SANG   KEN   44.92
4. Charles ASATI   KEN   45.13
5. Horst- Rudiger SCHLOSKE   GER   45.31
6. Markku KUKKOAHO   FIN   45.59
7. Karl HONZ   GER   45.68
John SMITH   USA   DNF