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14 October 2009

On this day in history: Jim Hines won Olympic 100m final, 1968

Born in Dumas, Arkansas, and raised in Oakland, California, Jim Hines earliest sporting ambition was to be a baseball star, but his running ability caught the eye of a track coach who persuaded him to become a sprinter. Later, while attending Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas he joined their track team and took part in the Amateur Athletic Union's 1968 national championships in Sacramento, California. During a semi-final heat of the one-hundred metres, Hines finished in a time of 9.9 seconds (measured manually) making him the first man to run the distance in under ten seconds.

Unsurprisingly, Hines was picked for the US team for the Mexico Olympics. He made it through the heats and lined up with the other contestants for the 100m final, which notably was the first ever Olympic final in which every competitor was black. Hines won the race and after some dispute his official time was recorded as 9.95 seconds (measured electronically) - the first sub-ten-second 100m in an Olympic final, and a world record that stood until Calvin Smith's 9.93 seconds in 1983.

Hines nearly didn't compete at all. There were calls for African-American athletes to boycott the games in protest of the inclusion of an Olympic team from South Africa, in spite of that country's policy of apartheid, and to highlight the issue of racial tensions at home. Two days after Hines' victory, Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave a raised fist 'Black Power' salute on the medal podium after finishing first and third respectively in the 200m final - one of the iconic images not only of the Mexico Olympics but also of that most troubled of years.

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