Otis Davis honored at Oregon, 60 years after Olympic titles

Otis Davis
University of Oregon Track and Field
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When Otis Davis visited his alma mater, the University of Oregon, over the weekend, the place he best recognized was his old dormitory.

Davis was a small-forward-sized guard on the basketball team in 1958, when he peered out of a third-floor window and saw two men doing laps at Hayward Field.

“To me, they looked slow. But they were distance runners, and they were running on pace,” Davis, 88, said by phone Saturday morning. “I said, I could beat those guys. That’s when I went to see Coach Bowerman.”

Davis, who served four years in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War before enrolling at Oregon, approached the soon-to-become legendary coach — Bill Bowerman — and asked if he could join the track team.

“[Bowerman] said, ‘What do you do?'” Davis remembered. “I said, ‘What do you need?’ I’m so glad he didn’t say pole vault.”

Two years later, Davis won the Olympic 400m title in world-record time in Rome. Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of that final and an indelible photo finish between Davis and silver medalist Carl Kaufmann of Germany, who was given the same time of 44.9 seconds.

Davis was honored at Oregon in conjunction with the anniversary. He visited the remodeled Hayward Field, which includes a 10-story tower with individual floors honoring the track and field program’s eight Olympic champions. Davis was the first.

The exterior of the tower depicts five icons from the program’s history, one of which is Davis, along with Bowerman and an unnamed athlete.

“First of all, I said, who is that handsome guy?” Davis joked upon seeing his image, speaking in a video released by the Oregon track and field program. “I didn’t know I looked that good. I’m just glad they thought of me that way, putting me up there.”

Back in 1960, Davis said that he was still learning lane-running tactics when he arrived in the Italian capital for the Games. But one key thing he knew — when crossing the finish line, it’s the chest that counts and not one’s hands or head.

That’s why he knew he had beaten Kaufmann, whom he saw in his peripheral vision as they finished together. The German was hitting the line with his mouth.

“I was breaking the tape with my torso,” Davis said.

Otis Davis
University of Oregon Track and Field

Davis won another gold medal with the 4x400m relay, also in a world record (one of his two golds was later stolen). He retired in 1961.

“I didn’t figure I could do anything else, and I had to go to work,” he said. “They didn’t pay any money [for track] or anything.”

He later moved to New Jersey and worked as a teacher, guidance counselor and mentor.

Davis reflected while sitting inside the new Hayward Field about everything he overcame to become a champion on and off the track.

He was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., near the University of Alabama, which did not desegregate until after Davis enrolled at Oregon and won his Olympic gold medals.

“Psychologically, I’m telling you, I thought I was running away from all of that negative stuff,” Davis said. “People saying that you weren’t as good as they were because they didn’t even know you, because you might look different from them, which is totally absurd, and that’s what the problems we’re having now.

“I was working against all of that bitterness and the hatred and the second-class citizenship.”

When Davis first joined the Oregon track team, he was a high jumper. He also did the long jump and ran the 100 yards before settling into the 400m, where he was third at the 1960 Olympic Trials.

“They said, oh, he’s a natural,” Davis said, “but even a natural has to learn how to run.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

Olympic Council of Asia
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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together,” according to Olympedia.org.

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”