A Century Removed
As we countdown to the start of the track & field program at the 2012 Olympics (three days now), there is always good reason to look back.
Not in that "can-Lolo-Jones-redeem-herself-from-Beijing" kind of way. But taking a long look back before tape-delay controversies and Twitter rebellions. Let's say a look back at 100 years ago.
One of those athletes that pushed their way into the spotlight heading into the 1912 Stockholm Games was a 19-year-old from Staten Island's Curtis High.
In late May of that year, Kiviat was the first American to break four minutes in the 1,500-meter run, managing that feat at Long Island's Celtic Park. It was a world record by about 3/5ths of a second (times were not yet to the 10th).
But just a week later, Kiviat took three seconds off that mark, knocking baseball from the screaming headlines of the New York dailies. The next weekend at the Olympic Trials in Cambridge, Mass., Kiviat — suddenly a U.S. sporting hero — did it again, breaking his own mark and pushing the record down to 3:55.8.
Never before and never since has anyone broken their own 1,500m world record twice and Kiviat did it in a 13-day span.
Just 5-foot-5 and 110 pounds, Kiviat was the clear favorite for gold in the 1,500 at Stockholm now. And it looked good for the first 1,490, but nearing the tape Britain's Arnold Jackson, an Oxford undergraduate, passed him by for the gold.
"That race was the biggest disappointment of my life," Kiviat would later tell Frank Litsky of the New York Times. "I never saw Jackson. It was my own fault. What was I waiting for?"
He would settle for silver and no American in the following century has won gold in that event.
Kiviat would hold a unique distinction from the 1912 Games — as a rare two-sport athlete. He played baseball for the U.S. as part of an exhibition. In fact, the U.S. played two games that year and Kiviat rapped out a Games-best four hits as his squad won both.
But that would be the athletic heights for Kiviat, who worked as a deputy court clerk in Manhattan. He'd serve the sport as a press steward at track meets at Madison Square Garden and at the famed Penn Relays, but he remained out of the spotlight until the early 1980s, when at the urging of New York track writer Stan Saplin, the New York Road Runners staged a 90th birthday party in his honor.
That led to an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, a torch run for the 1984 Games and an induction into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.
In his 1991 New York Times obituary, Litsky detailed Kiviat's ability to recall races of old and his willingness to do so. He also talked about the current athletes' devotion to training.
"The way runners live today," Kiviat said, "they go to Colorado to train and get paid for it. We were amateurs. We barely had a dime in our pocket for a beer. And the way they train. They run more in a week than I did in a year.
"Today, you hear of high school kids running 50-60 miles a week. I never ran miles miles in a week. If I was running a race on Saturday and another on Sunday, I wouldn't train that whole week."
And it nearly mined him gold 100 years ago.