Veteran athletics journalist Olaf Brockmann chats with Armin Hary on the 60th anniversary of the German sprinter’s 10.0 100m world.
Ten seconds for the ages.
Today (21) marks the 60th anniversary of Armin Hary’s 10.0 100m world record in Zurich 1960.
“It’s a Sunday like any other. There won’t be a party, but maybe a few friends will drop by,” says Hary, who lives near Rottenburg in Germany’s Bavaria state. “I won’t say where exactly, or there’ll suddenly be a full house!”
Hary feels good at 83. “I regularly go cycling on my e-bike. I want to get to the age of 100 at least.”
His voice sounds firm as he talks about 21 June 1960. About the day he set the 100m world record on 10.0, on the Letzigrund Stadium’s cinder track in front of 14,122 fans. It was third time lucky after narrowly missing out on the historic record twice before.
It is widely known that his first 10.0 sprint in Zurich was not recognised due to a false start. However, it is often forgotten that the German had run 10.0 once before, two years previously.
On 9 September 1958 in Friedrichshafen, the clocks had already shown 9.9 – 10.0 – 10.0 for him. However, there was no world record on that occasion. The track – just the middle track that Hary ran on – turned out to have a gradient that was slightly too steep. It had a fall of 1.9cm, nine millimetres more than permitted. “Someone begrudged me that world record,” Hary said.
“But I was sure that I would run this time again.” Two years later that came to pass, albeit with some enormous obstacles along the way.
The German federation, whom he was often feuding with, had banned him from starting in Zurich, allegedly to let him rest before the Olympics. Hary however was desperate to start at the Letzigrund, after Martin Lauer had set world records there in 1959, clockind 13.2 in the 110m hurdles and 22.5 in the 200m hurdles.
So Hary went to work on the morning of 21 June, turning up for his shift at a Frankfurt department store. Walter Lange, the chairman of Hary’s club FSV Frankfurt, was however eventually able to intervene successfully with the DLV. At lunchtime, Hary was given the green light for the evening’s event, but the lone flight from Frankfurt to Zurich was fully booked. The FSV managed to ‘bribe’ their way in, swapping a seat on the plane for two tickets for the final of the German football championship, which were to take place four days later between Hamburger SV and 1. FC Köln (3:2). Hary remembers: “I was speeding all the way to the airport in my car. I had one foot on the gas pedal and the other one in the grave.”
Hary fell asleep after he reached Zurich that the afternoon. The German sprinter Jürgen Schüttler woke him up in time. Now he was rested for the turbulent evening ahead.
The start of the 100m sprint was at 19:45. Hary accelerated quickly, ahead of his six competitors. The three stop watches showed 9.9 – 9.95 – 10.0. A spare watch showed 9.9, with a regular tail wind of 0.6m/sec. A clear 10.0.
Results of this run: 1. Hary (GER) 10.0, 2. Seye (FRA) 10.3, 3. Piquemal (FRA) 10.4, 4. Schüttler (GER) 10.5, 5. Giannone (ITA) 10.6, 6. Genevay (FRA) 10.6, 7. Müller (SUI) 10.7.
In the opinion of many experts and fans however, this represented a false start by Hary. Walter Lutz wrote in Sport Zürich: “Nobody understood why the starter did not call the field back. It would have made a mockery of the competition to recognise this as a world record.” The jury decided not to recognise the record due to a false start.
But Hary still insists that wasn’t the case. “This was not a false start. It was just that nobody trusted me to have a reaction time like that.” Furious, he called for a revision of the verdict with the help of German journalist Gustav Schwenk.
The three-person jury however was unable to overturn the starter’s decision. According to rule 10 (1 and 2) of the IAAF’s rulebook at the time, the starter had sole authority over matters of the start. And the starter Walter Dischler, a last minute substitute for chief starter Albert Kern who was on crutches that day, confessed that he had indeed seen a false start. “I was just too nervous to call them back.” Schwenk now pointed Hary to the IAAF rule which allowed the jury to call for a re-run in the case of an erroneous judgment.
That happened 35 minutes later.
“I needed two sprinters who were willing to run again,” Hary Remembers.
Schwenk helped him again here. Heinz Müller and Jürgen Schüttler were ready. Hary was sure now: “I can run that time again.” (Schwenk told me this story on a flight in 1975 from Düsseldorf to Zurich. The whole story, an hour, hardly pausing for breath. Constant suspense until the moment we touched down, a free history lesson.)
The start for the re-run was set at 20:20. Kern was the starter now. He had put his crutches aside, not wanting to appear in front of the audience with them. The start worked perfectly. Sport Zürich reported, “Hary ran elegantly, relaxed, and like a machine away from his competitors. He sped across the finish line a good three metres ahead of Müller.” The announcer proclaimed: ‘Hary ran a world record at 10.0, tailwind 0.9m/sec.’ The official clocks showed 9.9 – 10.0 – 10.0. Two other clocks each showed 10.0, and a sixth 10.1. A convincing 10.0.
Results of the second run: 1. Hary 10.0, 2. Müller 10.3, 3. Schüttler 10.4.
The 10.1 world record times of Willie Williams, Ian Muchison and Leamon King (all 1956) and Ray Norton (1959) were eclipsed. Hary had fulfilled his dream. He was completely beside himself, zoomed across the field in big leaps of joy and hugged everyone he encountered. Lauer, one of the first people to congratulate him, said: “I’ll rip the head off anyone who dares to say that something is wrong with this world record.”
But it was an undisputable fact now. A German as the world record holder over 100m, dethroning the US. Incredible. Hary has kept three mementos from that historical evening: the start blocks that he built himself, the Adidas spikes and his jersey.
Of course, Hary was now the favourite for Rome. “But that didn’t mean that I was going to win!”
On 1 September however, he sprinted to victory in 10.2 in front of Dave Sime (USA, also 10.2) and Peter Radford (GBR/10.3). He needed nerves of steel once again. One of the two false starts was deemed to be his fault, and a third start attempt had to be abandoned. After this eventful 100m, at the end of the Games, Hary even won the sprint relay as part of the German team (Cullmann, Hary, Mahlendorf, Lauer) in 39.4. The USA had been disqualified due to a botched handover.
Later, Hary always had one wish: “I would have loved to have challenged the muscly competitors of today under the same conditions, on a tartan track.” His coach Bertl Sumser, a friend whom I visited in Bavaria often, was always sure that Hary would have won against Carl Lewis and company.
He was never able to fulfil that dream. But perhaps he’ll get his dream of living to 100.
Olaf Brockmann for World Athletics