The year was 1948 and the Olympic Games for which Lloyd La Beach had worked so hard for most of his young life were to be held in the month of May in London, England. It was interesting to note that up until that time in the latter part of the fortieth decade of the twentieth century in the country of Panama the West Indian Blacks, the same people who had been derided and called “Chombos” by the native Criollo population, had been the most prominent force in the field of sports in that small Isthmian nation. In fact, they were the only group that had organized athletic clubs and, consequently, dominated Track and Field in the country.
For the young but seasoned Lloyd La Beach, who was now approaching 26 years of age, the trip to London, England would be the longest trip he had ever made since the beginning of his university career in the early 1940’s. His arrival at London’s Heathrow Airport made him feel like he was the only Panamanian in the whole country of England, and although Lloyd would often walk with his UCLA chief, Coach Duke Drake, he preferred the company of his long time friend and trainer from Panama, the young Coach Carlos Belizaire Bussette.
During the weeks preceding the great Olympic events Lloyd had had recurring dreams of his performance in which he had “beaten the field.” These prophetic dreams, however, had always been overshadowed by a nagging sadness when he would be awakened by something that he did not yet understand. Lloyd La Beach, however, was extremely courageous, and he knew that his brothers at the Apollo Athletic Club of Panama and all the people of Calidonia and all the family in Jamaica had their prayers set on him.
On the night before the meet in which he was slated to compete he again had the troubling dream. This time, however, he awoke with a sense of reassurance that someone was saying to him, “Whatever happens today don’t be depressed and don’t protest.” Lloyd warmed up with the rest of the athletes at the stadium where other Track and Field competitors were doing the same thing. The stadium soon seemed to fill up with expectant crowds waiting anxiously to see the world’s fastest human beings of their time compete.
The call suddenly came from the Olympic officials for the runners to appear at their starting blocks for the legendary and much awaited 100 meter dash race. Since these Olympic Games were special, having been reinstated after the end of World War II, the atmosphere during this event had not been as electrified as, say, in pre-war Olympiads. The runner representing the small country of Panama, after all, would be challenging the runners of major world powers like Britain and the United States of America. In fact, the day was of no interest, ironically, to most of the people of Panama who were bent on expelling from their country the West Indian people who Lloyd represented at this great event.
The stage was set, however, as all runners at last settled into the starting blocks for the 10 second race that would mark a milestone in the century in which the “Westindian” people, as a people, had achieved so much for humanity and of which the world knew so little.
Before the starting shot clearly sounded, it seemed, the runners were off. The two U.S. runners who, at home in the United States, were sworn enemies for the disparity in the color of their skin, were suddenly united against the West Indian Panamanian, Lloyd La Beach, who represented everything foreign to them. That day, for the immortal La Beach, the whole field of runners was the enemy as his lanky limbs would soon serve as wings and rudder to keep him on track towards the finish line.
They had all had a good start and were in a dead heat upon approaching the finish line as they stretched their necks and torsos to be first to mark the crossing. The privileged fans on that eventful day were the few who had the finish line seats in the stands. Some swore that they saw the Panamanian runner beat the whole line of sprinters to the finish line. However, they would have to await the decision of the line judges who were taking an awfully long time to decide while they looked at the photo finish and other photographs of the race.*
The decision was soon rendered. First Place: Mr. Harrison Dillard of the U.S.A., clocked in at 10.3 seconds, and was awarded the Gold Medal. Mr. Barney Ewell, of the U.S.A, came in second place with a time of 10.4 seconds and was awarded the Silver Medal. Mr. Lloyd La Beach of Panama, who clocked in at 10.4 seconds was awarded the Bronze Medal.
As the three champions gathered in the circle of honor the awards ceremony was highlighted by the thunderous applause of the grandstand crowds especially at the announcement of the intrepid challenger, Lloyd La Beach of Panama, and the playing of the Panama National anthem, played for the first time in the famous World Olympic Games.
- “Note that there was no automatic timing in use at Wembley, merely photo-finish equipment which was normally used for horse-racing, and was only used to aid the judges to decide placings. Although automatic systems were used in 1932 and 1936, and then from 1952 to 1968, these timings were not acknowledged as official until the 1972 Games in Munich. Statisticians who obtained the ‘unofficial’ times were horrified at the sometimes excessive difference between them and the ‘official’ manual timings.” The BBC- Making of Modern Britain History Series.
This story will continue.