East Texans Have A History Of Olympic Greatness
By HAROLD WILSON
For a two-week stretch every four years, the eyes of the sports world fixate on the Olympic Games.
The Olympics constitute the world's premier athletic competition, with more than 200 countries gathering in the same location for a half month's worth of competition in more than 30 disciplines.
On at least three occasions in Olympic history, East Texans took center stage at the Summer Games.
Tyler native Robert Taylor won a gold medal in the 400-meter relay and a silver medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Kilgore's Kenta Bell participated in the triple jump at the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Palestine's Sandra Glover Cummings competed in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
A product of Emmett Scott, Taylor starred at Texas Southern, earning NAIA All-America honors three times, prior to showing the world his speed.
The 1972 Olympics proved memorable for reasons on and off the track.
Terrorist attacks at the Olympics village claimed the lives of 11 Israeli athletes 40 years ago.
As for Taylor, he barely reached the track to run in time. Taylor told the
Tyler Morning Telegraph
of the account during a 2000 interview.
The three American sprinters who qualified for the 100-meter dash -- Taylor, Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson -- thought the event started at 7 p.m. and never received word of a schedule revision. The trio realized what had happened while at the ABC television headquarters. At the time going by an outdated 18-month old schedule used by coach Stan Wright, the sprinters watched a live feed of 100-meter competitors warming up. After realizing what they were viewing was not a tape-delayed event, an ABC employee whisked away the Americans in an attempt to reach the track.
The new schedule moved the start time to 4:15 p.m. and placed Robinson in Heat 1, Hart in Heat 2 and Taylor in Heat 3. The threesome arrived at the stadium after the first two heats, leaving Taylor only enough time to take of his sweats, lace up his shoes and briefly stretch before qualifying for the next round. He later finished second in the finals in a time of 10.24 seconds behind the Soviet Union's Valery Borzov (10.14).
Hart and Taylor joined Larry Black and Gerry Tinger on the 400 relay. The foursome tied the world and Olympic record with a time of 38.19.
Taylor died in November 2007, fewer than four months after gaining enshrinement into the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Taylor holds spots in four shrines, including the Texas Southern University Hall of Fame, the Outstanding College Athletes Hall of Fame and the SWAC Hall of Fame.
For all his honors, including three NAIA national championships in the 100-yard dash at TSU in 1970, 1971 and 1972, one golden summer stood above all.
"That was the highlight," said Taylor, in a 2007 interview with the Tyler Paper, about the 1972 Olympics. "I'm truly pleased I was able to participate in those events."
Bell bears a unique position among East Texans, qualifying for two Olympics.
He prepped for the spotlight at Northwestern State, where he gained All-American status three times. Bell claimed seven Southland Conference championships and twice earned the honor as SLC Male Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
In 1999, Bell finished fourth at the USA Outdoor championships, and settled for 11th in his first appearance at the U.S. Olympic Trails in 2000.
In his first Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games, Bell placed ninth in the triple jump. Four years later, after sixth-place and seventh-place finishes at the World Championships in 2003 and 2005, respectively, Bell repeated the difficult feat of getting back to the Olympics.
Bell failed to do as well as his first Olympic trip, taking 13th in his group and missing out on the finals. But getting back satisfied the jumping specialist.
"You know what, the second time is better than the first time," Bell said after the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials. "This one was harder and I put a lot of work into this ... I am probably the oldest guy by three or four years on the runway, so to come out here and get it done is a great feeling."
Glover peaked after high school, where the Palestine product finished third in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1987 state track meet.
At the next level Glover divided her time, attending Stephen F. Austin State for two years, and later the University of Houston for two years, where she captured Southwest Conference titles in the 100- and 400- meter hurdles in 1991.
Glover came up short at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1992 and 1996 before a breakthrough. She won the 400 hurdles at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials. Her time of 53.33 seconds marked the fourth-fasted ever by an American.
Leading up to the Olympics, Glover worked out six days a week, five hours a day, split between the track and weight room. The heightened focus fueled a notable improvement she said.
Glover opened the 2000 Sydney Olympics by winning her heat but then came up short in the semifinals to end her dream season.
"I always had good technique," Glover said. "After '96 I said, 'I need more.' I needed to be faster. We worked on speed, power and endurance."
While most athletes peak in their 20s, Glover reached the pinnacle of her career at age 31.
"A lot of people ask me, 'What took you so long?'" Glover said. "I just say, 'You don't know what I've been through -- working, getting program that worked for me.' I'm happy. I'm grateful. I'm thankful."