Panama’s Glory Returns Home a Twofold Victor

Awards ceremony at the 1948 London Olympics 100m competition

Awards ceremony at the 1948 London Olympics 100m competition

This is an early shot of the Roxy Athletic Club in Panama.  About 1933.

This is an early shot of the Roxy Athletic Club in Panama. About 1933.

That day in 1948 on the running track, the World Summer Olympics in the historic city of London were not quite over when the Panamanian, Lloyd La Beach, would, once again, offer the expectant crowd another exciting race to the finish line as the crowds stood in awe to applaud the lone Panamanian runner. The boy who had importuned his parents in Jamaica for them to let him return to his country of birth had yearned to follow other youngsters of Panamanian “Westindian” descent who would travel between the countries of the Caribbean, England, the United States and Panama to declare to the world their humanity as well as their athletic excellence.

The Olympic Games were not yet over for most athletes at the London Track and Field Stadium, for the next day the participants in the 200 meter race appeared at the starting blocks for another round of seeing some of the fastest sprinters in the world.

The crowds of Track and Field enthusiasts who had followed the up and coming challengers to speed marks set by the big hopefuls such as Melvin Patton and Barney Ewell of the U.S.A were now eager to see the Panamanian youngster, Lloyd La Beach, do a repeat performance. Panama’s hopeful had already proven that he could keep up with the elite group at the University of California and at the famous Fresno Relays where the demanding crowds had always been divided. Many people had their bets on the champions of note, Patton and Ewell, and yet Lloyd remembered how he had almost beaten Melvin Patton at Fresno coming in next to Patton for the same time for the 100 meter dash, finally having to settle for second place to the famous “Pell Mel.”

But these were the World Olympic Games and those veterans would rather die running than give up one millimeter to any other runner. After a few nervous runners were eliminated from the 200 meter heat the line judge with the starting pistol fired and the runners were off. Again, the young Lloyd La Beach drew upon his divine strength as his limber body sped off down the track to the finish line in a dead heat right along side of the fastest human beings alive in the whole world.

Again, we must remember that there were no electronic devises to clock the runners at the time, but the finish line judges declared Mr. Melvin Patton of the USA, first place for the Gold Medal, with a time of 21.1. Mr. Barney Ewell of the USA, came in second for the Silver Medal with a time of 21.1. Mr. Lloyd La Beach of  Panama came in third for the Bronze Medal, with a time of 21.2.  Lloyd La Beach was, nevertheless, the boy wonder of that competition, and the news hit the international wires with lightning speed how the lone Panamanian runner who most Panamanians did not even know had practically beat the American hopefuls.

That summer, Lloyd graduated from the University of California and after the Olympic Games he quietly returned to Panama to the cheers of his brothers and team mates at the Roxy Athletic Club in the district of Calidonia in Panama City. The waiting section of Albrook Air Force Base, which was the only available air travel facility in the entire Republic of Panama, was replete with a welcoming crowd of admirers the likes of which had never been seen at the small air field since agreements had been made between Panama and the United States to allow international flights to land and take off at that military installation.

One of their own had come home victorious with, not one, but two valuable medals from the world famous Olympic Games and most of those present were from the Silver People of the Black Canal Zone and they acted as if they owned the place. There were no professional photographers in the crowd, however, and most of the excited admirers had forgotten to take their own box cameras so that, unfortunately for us today, no photographs of that fateful day of glory would survive to capture the radiance of the immortal son and champion of the descendants of the Silver Men of Panama.

This story continues.

2 responses to “Panama’s Glory Returns Home a Twofold Victor

  1. That was the 1948 Olympic 200m finals.


  2. I claim Labeach for jamaica, he was a part of the first batch of Jamaicans to challenge the USA in track and field ,it was a USA vs Jamaica final,all the runners had american and Jamaican heritage.
    1st Mel Patton United States 21.1
    2nd Barney Ewell United States 21.1
    3rd Lloyd LaBeach Panama 21.2
    4 Herb McKenley Jamaica 21.3 *
    5 Cliff Bourland United States 21.3 *
    6 Les Laing Jamaica 21.8 *

    Labeach father relocated to Jamaica and formed a taxi business, i read somewhere that Labeach attended Kingston technical high school,yes i claim him as jamaican with love.


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