When Robert Lee Hayes runs you get the impression that cotter pins have come out and dowels loosened and that at the end of the race there will be sections of Bob Hayes—elbows, kneecaps, forearms—strewn along the track like the Florida Keys. Churning along, his pigeon toes making divots and his arms effecting great uppercuts, Hayes does not run a race so much as he appears to beat it to death, or it him. For all that, Bob Hayes arrives. All of him always arrives. And the wonder then is not the completion of the trip so much as the speed of it. People just cannot believe how quickly this young man gets from one place to another.
As an example, take the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference track and field championships two years ago in Atlanta. Hayes runs for (and plays football for and attends classes at) Florida A&M University, and that day, as a 19-year-old sophomore, he ran 100 yards with more impatience than usual. Among the judges, presumably atremble at the sight, there were watches stopped at 8.9 seconds and 9.0 seconds. This was impossible, of course. Nobody would ever believe such a thing. Hayes's time rounded off to a sensational but uninflammatory 9.3 seconds.
Since then Hayes has pretty well indicated that he could do 9.3 running on Jones Beach in combat boots. Watches have become bolder—five times he has been clocked at 9.1, which is the accepted world record—and last week Atlanta headline writers were bold, too (HAYES GOES FOR 9 FLAT), as he returned for the conference meet. Bold but uninformed. Odds were enormous against a record, because competition was flimsy (it is a league of small Negro schools dominated by A&M), and when preliminaries were completed the cinder track at Cheney Stadium, not a good facility anyway, was gingerbread. More likely, he would do 9.4 or 9.5, looking over his shoulder.
After running a decisive anchor leg on the winning A&M 440-yard relay team, Hayes settled into the blocks for the 100. Settled is not quite the word. He was still fussing with his fingers at the set position when the gun went off. Caught there and slow getting out, he was an inconspicuous third, but inside of 20 yards he had caught up, and he had shoved his powerful chest ahead after 25. The crowd, bunched up along the rail as if the stadium had tilted the moment Hayes's name was announced, woooooed him down the line. When he won there was a light wind in his face and an indecently large gap between his heels and the No. 2 man. The judges confidently clocked him out at 9.2.
On a fast rubberized track, pushed (if that is possible) by a Henry Carr or a Harry Jerome or a Larry Questad, it is reasonable to surmise that Hayes at that moment would have become the first man to run 100 yards in less than nine seconds. He will do it one of these days. A 9.2 on gingerbread with no real competition tells you how close he is.
Later in the meet Hayes won the 220-yard dash in 21.2 and, as a concession to the clinical studies of his bright young coach, Dick Hill, agreed to run one of the legs of the mile relay.
"I run 440 yards only one other time in my life," said Hayes, grinning. "Please have a drink of water ready on the back-stretch."
"Can Hayes run a quarter mile?" the A&M football coach, Jake Gaither, was asked in the infield, where he was conducting a Bob-Hayes-can-do-anything seminar.
"Just watch him," said Gaither.
Hayes was fifth when he got the baton on the second leg. When he gave it up Florida A&M had the lead, and ultimately it had the victory. Hayes ran his quarter in a creditable 48.6.
Gaither eventually had to be routed from his place in the infield because his stories had drawn a crowd. The football coach told of a night in Jacksonville—Bob Hayes Night, as declared by the mayor, because Jacksonville is Hayes's home town—when his 192-pound halfback ran a punt back 83 yards for a touchdown and, in the last quarter, scored twice more to pull out a game against a strong Texas Southern team. But please do not be misled, said Gaither. What you see before you is not just a great runner but a great pass receiver and a man who can kick off over the goal line and punt 50 or 60 yards. "But I was scared to death to let him," said Gaither. "With that foot up he's fair game, and if he ever got racked I'd be Mister Mud himself, the man who ruined our Olympic sprinter."
Football Player Hayes has been drafted as a future by the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys and is likely to accept a professional contract after the Olympics (where he wants to win three gold medals) and after the next football season (he hopes to be back in time to play in five regular-season games, the Orange Blossom Classic and the North-South game, to which he has already been invited). Hayes could easily succeed as a pro where other sprinters, like Frank Budd and Glenn Davis, have failed. He is first a football player and second a sprinter. He has the necessary change of pace, he cuts without diminishing returns on his speed and, as Gaither modestly suggests, "is one helluva fine pass receiver."
Hayes runs track like a football player, a fact that is a continuing subject of investigation. If a man is that unorthodox, how does he run that fast? Pete Griffin, his former track coach and an A&M assistant, gives lectures on the subject and writes ponderous analyses in athletic journals. Naturally, nobody tries to change the way Hayes runs. "They would be foolish to try," says Hayes. "They would have to amputate his pigeon toes," says Track Coach Hill.
There have been minor modifications. Hill had Hayes move his right hand farther out from his body at the mark because he was coming off in too tight a knot and spiking himself. He also had him shorten his opening stride to increase acceleration. Hill's nostrils flare at the suggestion that Hayes's starts are less than lightning bolts, and it is true that they have improved, but Hayes still would not win many 10-yard races. Or 20-yard races, either. But he holds world indoor records for 60 and 70 yards, so he clearly—and quickly—makes up for lost time.
Hill meanwhile will lose sleep over cause and effect, wind resistance, gravitational pull, the five-day forecast and the importance of brushing after meals if and when they pertain to Robert Lee Hayes. He has already memorized the weather forecast for Tokyo in October.
He plies his student with meaningful figures and subtle textbook psychology. He tells him he is now running 29.9 feet per second and needs to do only 30.3 to run 100 yards in 8.9 seconds. That is a mere four-tenths of a foot per second faster. What could be easier, eh?
"Like most sprinters, Hayes is temperamental," says Hill, "so you have to use a few words on him, psych him up a little. Sometimes you have to be a little devious."
Hayes is susceptible to psychology. Last year at the Coliseum Relays in Los Angeles he was due to face Arizona State's Henry Carr, world record holder, in the 220 when he suddenly announced to Hill that he was exhausted and could not run. Hayes had just won at 100 yards; Carr had abstained. Now Hayes would have to face a fresh opponent—a very good fresh opponent—and it was not an appetizing prospect for so tired a man.
"O.K.," said Hill. "Pull on your sweat suit and relax. I'll get you scratched."
Moments later, Hill was back. "Hey, Bob, I just saw Carr talking to his coach. They look worried. Shaking their heads and everything. I don't think he wants to run against you very bad."
Other poignant bulletins followed. Correspondent Hill was remarkably well informed. Finally Hayes stood up. "Coach, can you get my name back in there?" Hayes asked. Hill said he thought he could. Hayes ran and won.
Generally, Bob Hayes is a noncomplaining, self-sacrificing athlete who, except for a few cramps and one bad bruise from a fall in Madison Square Garden, has never been noticeably injured. He is heavily muscled—only his ankles are skinny—with formidable thighs and calves, prominent high buttocks and powerful chest and shoulder development. When he runs there is an exaggerated rotation of the shoulders and, wide-legged and pigeon-toed, he powers along. While Hill would like Hayes to take off six pounds before Tokyo, weight is no problem. Hayes came off the football field in January weighing 196 and ran 100 yards in 9.1.
Hill has a surprise this weekend as part of his projected pre-Olympic schedule. He is taking Hayes with a relay team to the Coliseum Relays, but he has not entered him in the 100-yard dash. Hayes will run only the 200 meters. "I want him fresh and ready for Carr. If possible, I want him to annihilate some people out there. Put a few scars on their memories, so they'll be thinking how nobody breaks that tape before Bob Hayes."
Robert Lee Hayes is called "Crow" by his friends—"only by my friends," he says, but he likes the nickname. Why Crow? "Because he looks like a crow," says a qualified friend. "Sort of pointy-faced and shiny. And it's a natural, man, because he flies, he flies. He's the shortest distance between two points."
Hayes works hard at being one of the fellows. He is proud of the T that the guys burned on his right forearm with a hot wire one night, because it makes him one of the Tramps, a fraternal group at Florida A&M. He is unnerved by too much attention, which he invariably gets, and as a way of showing his unturned head he will go around with his shirttail out. "He'd wear overalls on the plane if he thought he was being a regular guy," says the friend.
But there is also some Tabasco in Hayes. He was slick on a Friday night in Atlanta in gray-striped suit and close-brimmed, broad-straw hat that he dipped rakishly over his right eye. On the field he wears red-white-and-blue Olympic spikes, and he eschews the regular A&M sweat suit in favor of any one of a colorful selection of eight. He wore blue on Friday, then on Saturday a maroon he got from a German he defeated on a European tour last year. At school he is noted for his talks in government class on the wretched raw fish a certain visiting athlete had to eat in Russia. "Never again. Never again," he says.
Hayes does not practice false modesty. He does not practice any modesty, really, but his boasts are not unattractive, and more often than not he speaks of what he knows. As a sophomore in high school he told his coach he could outrun any of those clowns on the track team. The coach said, "Let's see you do it," and Hayes did. "I could always run fast," he says in the way of explanation.
The one time he high-jumped he did six feet, he says, and he broad-jumped 20 feet nine inches, but "I wasn't really interested too much." There are those, too, who will vouch that he plays a good game of basketball, and since he was a center fielder on his high school team it would not be hard to find somebody who thought him another Willie Mays.
He is also known as a boy devoted to his mother, "a wonderful kid with a heart of gold," says Coach Gaither, but there was a time last year when resentment from his teammates became so apparent that Gaither had to tell the wonderful kid to please go someplace while he talked with the green-eyed boys.
"You oughta be ashamed," said Gaither to the boys. "But, more than that, you ought to be proud you're on the same team with this fellow. Do you realize he's the fastest that ever lived? All right, you're a little jealous of the attention. I can understand that. So I'll guarantee you something. I guarantee any one of you, you race him and, sure enough, if you beat him you'll get the very same attention he's getting."
Glowing like men at the top, Coach Dick Hill (left) and Hayes acknowledge praise in Atlanta.
A slow beginner by international standards, Hayes (third from right) Is third in fact coming out of blocks at Atlanta. But he accelerates rapidly (right to left below) and is alone at the finish.
25 yards (3 seconds). This is the slowest portion of Hayes's race. Like 1956 Olympian Bobby Morrow, he does not reach real speed until 20 yards out.
50 yards (2.2 seconds). Adjusting stride after initial burst, Hayes settles into a fast float. According to San Jose State Coach Bud Winter, who has made special study, this is typical of best-trained sprinters.
75 yards (1.9 seconds). Hayes accelerates again. Despite wobbling gait, he is now traveling 26.9 mph, probably the highest speed ever attained in the 100.
100 yards (2.1 seconds). Hayes is famous for his kick at end. Actually, it is not as fast as has been imagined but only seems so because weaker opponents have tailed off.