Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Almost Olympian

Bill Hurd set records at Manassas High and never stopped running.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2012 at 2:08 PM

When Usain Bolt, the "fastest man in the world," goes for an Olympic double-gold in the 200 meters Thursday, a former Manassas High School sprinter who was once arguably the "fastest teenager in the world" will be watching.

"He's phenomenal, the real deal," said Bill Hurd, a Memphis eye surgeon, jazz musician, and former world-class athlete who's pretty accomplished himself.

In 1965, as a senior at Manassas, Hurd ran the 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds on a cinder track at the Fairgrounds, breaking a prep record held by the legendary Jesse Owens.

"It was actually never accepted as a national record because it was a small meet," Hurd said. "There were like eight runners, and I won by a wide margin. The fastest time in the city before then was 9.5 by my rival, Willie Dawson, at Melrose. By the end of the season, he had run a 9.4 and a guy at Carver had run 9.5, so there was a picture of the three of us holding up the numbers 3, 4, and 5."

Hurd, who was also an outstanding student and horn player in the Manassas band under the direction of Emerson Able, got scholarship offers from UCLA, Villanova, Southern Cal, and others. He chose Notre Dame, then a powerhouse in football.

"I had my eyes on an academic scholarship to MIT. A newspaper article said I could be an example of someone who chose academics over an athletic route," he recalled. "I wound up doing exactly the opposite, but Notre Dame was great and I came out well-rounded."

College athletes ran metric distances, and Hurd ran the 100 meters in 10.1 seconds, good enough to get him to the U.S. Olympic trials in 1968. He missed qualifying by one position for a team whose sprinters included Tommie Smith and John Carlos, memorialized forever in the "black power salute" of black-gloved fists and bowed heads on the medal stand.

Hurd's best event was the rarely run 300-yard dash, in which he set an American indoor record of 29.8 seconds. He also ran a 6.0 60-yard dash, when the world record was 5.9 seconds.

"I did not train that hard compared to what they do now," he said. "There was no such thing as steroids or performance-enhancing drugs when I was running."

In 1968, he was voted Notre Dame's Athlete of the Year, beating out future NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page and basketball All-American Austin Carr.

"Page is now a state Supreme Court justice in Minnesota," Hurd said. "He used to cut my hair. There were not many black students there at the time. I think there were like 12 in my class of 2,000. Page was typical of student athletes then, a smart guy who planned on going to law school."

After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, Hurd ran for the Philadelphia Track Club for a couple of years and traveled to Italy, Germany, and London. But there was no future in it. He enrolled in the management program at MIT, toured with the jazz band, played with trumpet player Clark Terry at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and worked as a consultant.

"I wanted to have my own business, and so many of my clients were physicians that I decided to go to medical school at Meharry in Nashville."

He returned to Memphis to start his practice as an eye surgeon. He and his wife Rhynette, an attorney, live in Collierville. Both of their sons graduated from Notre Dame.

Hurd spends two or three weeks a year doing voluntary eye surgery on poor people in Africa, Mexico, and Brazil. In 1994, he was one of the recipients of the NCAA's Silver Anniversary Award along with notable members of the Class of 1969 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, miler Jim Ryun, and football stars Calvin Hill and Leroy Keyes.

Whew. Oh, and he has four music CDs out.

Phenomenal, you might say.

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