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Please see related article about Eddie Hart, here.
Meet the two-time World Record-holder at Barnes & Noble in Antioch Monday, Dec. 18
By Allen Payton
Having previously equaled the World Record, Martinez-born and Pittsburg-raised Eddie Hart was a strong favorite to win the 100-Meter Dash at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. The inexplicable happened, he was disqualified for arriving seconds after his quarterfinal heat. Ten years of training to become the “World’s Fastest Human.” The title attached to the Olympic 100-meter champion was lost in a heartbeat. How could this have possibly happened on athletics’ biggest stage, the Olympic Games?
Hart provides his story in a new book he’s written with the help of friend and former Oakland Tribune sports reporter, Dave Newhouse, entitled “Disqualified – Eddie Hart, Munich 1972, and the Voices of The Most Tragic Olympics.”
A Champion Since High School
Hart moved to Pittsburg when he was eight years old, and attended Village Elementary and Central Junior High. He graduated from Pittsburg High in 1967 where he lettered every year as a member of the track team, in the 100, 200 and long jump. He won “the conference in four events, including the 4×100 relay in 1966, then he repeated in the 100 and 200 in 1967,” Hart shared.
He then went on to attend Contra Costa College in San Pablo.
“That’s where I really blossomed,” Hart said.
It’s where he won the 100 and 200 at the junior college state meet in 1969.
Hart then transferred to U.C. Berkeley where he majored in Physical Education, because he wanted to be a track coach. In his first year, he won the 100-meter race at the PAC-8 championships and placed second in the 200.
Then at the NCAA national championships that year, Hart won the 100 and running anchor, helped his team win the 4×100 relay, as well.
One of his teammates, Isaac Curtis, who went on to play wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, came in second in that same 100-meter race, making it the only time in NCAA history that teammates from the same school placed first and second in the championship race.
“At the end of that year I made the U.S. national team and toured Europe for six weeks competing in various meets,” Hart shared. “We competed in France, in Russia and Oslo, and Sweden, also.”
Champion in the 5,000-meter Steve Prefontaine was on that same team.
“I knew Pre, well,” Hart said.
First Major Challenge
Then in 1971 he placed second in the 100 and third in the 200 at the NCAA Championships due to an injury earlier in the year, having missed half the season and not even competing in the conference championships.
Hart withdrew from school to train for the Olympics and became an assistant to the head track coach in 1972, at the same time. He entered open competition that year and during the meets Hart made the qualifying times in the 100. In fact, he missed the World Record by just 1/10th of a second running 10 flat at the West Coast Relays in Fresno.
Second Major Challenge
Three weeks before the Olympic trials Hart injured his right hamstring while running in the 200 at the U.S. Championships in Seattle. He couldn’t do any starts between that injury and his first race at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “It was tough.”
Then at the trials, “It was a nightmare,” Hart said. “Each race, everyone was ahead of me. I just kept pulling up.”
Asked if he was hesitant, he replied, “Oh, very much so. I was afraid I was going to reinjure myself.”
“You have to run four races,” Hart explained. “A heat, a quarterfinal, a semi-final and then the final.”
In the semifinal I was fourth and they only took four to the final. “I barely made it,” he stated.
“It was a wind-aided race and the first five guys ran a 9.9 in the 100 meters and the fifth-place guy didn’t even qualify,” Hart continued. “I was the fourth guy and I was scared to death, because from the finals they only took the top three.”
In the blocks at the starting line, he was still thinking about his leg, which was bothering him.
“This was all the marbles right here, there was nothing to save,” he shared.
“The gun went off and I was in a dream,” Hart explained. “I ran the best race of my life.”
Before or after, “Ever,” he said. “That was it.”
“I was an Olympian, an Olympic trials champion and the World Record holder at 9.9,” Hart stated proudly.
“It was legal, not wind-aided,” he added.
Hart had equaled the World Record in the 100-meter dash, which had been achieved by only two others before. It wasn’t broken until 1991 when Carl Lewis ran it in 9.86.
He also qualified for the Olympics as the anchor for the U.S. Men’s 4×100 relay team, which was made up of the four finalists in the 100-meter race.
From Triumph to Tragedy
About a month later he was with the U.S. Olympic Team in Boden, Maine for a few weeks to train in similar weather as Munich, Germany. They then competed in Oslo, Norway, France and Italy before arriving in the Olympic Village just a few days before the Opening Ceremony.
A few days later he ran and won his heat.
“It was easier to make it to the finals at the Olympic games than it was to make the finals at the Olympic trials,” Hart shared. “Of the top 10 to 15 sprinters in the world, the top 10 were in the U.S. at that time.”
After all three U.S. sprinters had won their heats, the coach said “let’s go back to the Olympic Village and rest” Hart explained, “because there was so much time between races. But, that was his schedule.”
The Village was only about a mile or less away from the Olympic Stadium. But, the coach had the incorrect time for the start of the quarterfinals.
They rushed back to the stadium, but it was too late for Hart. He had missed his race and was disqualified. Thus, the title of his book.
Tragedy Ends in Triumph
Hart’s Olympic story didn’t end there. The following week after the tragic murder of the 11 Israeli team members had halted the games for a day for the memorial, Hart once again ran anchor for the U.S. 4×100 relay team. They won that race in World Record time and he became an Olympic Gold Medalist and a World Record holder, once again. See video of Hart’s leg of the race here.
Returning to Pittsburg he was met with celebrations by the Mayor of Pittsburg and the city.
Hart returned to college to complete his degree, and became a paid assistant track coach at Cal Berkeley. He has since started his philanthropic efforts through his Eddie Hart All In One Foundation which holds an Olympian Track Education Clinic at Pittsburg High, each year.
Faith has been a big part of his life, all of his life. Hart has been a member of Stewart Memorial Methodist Church in Pittsburg since elementary school. He’s taught Sunday School for 35 years and for the past 20 years he’s taught the men’s class.
Asked if faith played a part in his Olympic journey, Hart responded, “In every aspect. I grew up in the church, it couldn’t have been any other way.”
“I never prayed to God for success in track,” he shared. “I asked God to give me strength in life to face the challenges as they come.”
“My prayer is that His will be done. God is interested in spiritual things, in our soul not our flesh,” Hart continued. “Ultimately at the end of the day whatever physical things we’ve accomplished here will be left here. It’s about our souls which are eternal. Our flesh is going to burn up. The Bible is clear.”
Asked if his story will become a movie, Hart said, “We’re working on it.”
But, he has to think about who will play the part of him, he shared with a laugh.
His book includes a foreword by Harvard professor, Dr. Cornel West who has been a friend since high school, and whose brother Cliff was Hart’s roommate at Cal.
See Eddie Hart and get your copy of his book signed on Monday, Dec. 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Barnes & Noble book store in Antioch at 5709 Lone Tree Way.