Vincent Matthews (athlete)

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Vince Matthews
VinceMatthews.jpg

Vincent ("Vince") Edward Matthews (born December 16, 1947 in Queens, New York) is an African American former sprinter, winner of two gold medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics and 1972 Summer Olympics.

Matthews was one of the best American long sprinters to appear in the mid-1960s, and developed a fierce rivalry with future Olympic champion Lee Evans. The pair first met in their teens, and then duelled several times in 1967, with Evans coming out on top in the AAU Championships and Pan American Games.

At the warm-up meet two weeks prior to the Olympic Trials in 1968, Matthews set the new world record 44.4 in 400 m, but his time was rejected as a world record due to his use of PUMA's illegal "brush spikes". At the Trials themselves, he was then beaten out of the top three by Evans, Larry James and Ron Freeman.

At the Olympic Games in Mexico City, Matthews ran the first leg on American's gold medal winning 4x400 m relay team that set the world record of 2:56.16, which lasted for 24 years.

After Mexico, Matthews gave up track and field for a year as he struggled with the demands of work and marriage, but worked his way back to full fitness and into contention for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. At the Olympic Trials, Vince finished third behind John Smith and Wayne Collett, beating old rival Lee Evans into fourth. In Olympic final, Smith took the early lead but pulled a hamstring after 80 meters; the race turned into a battle between Matthews and Collett, Matthews winning in 44.66, with Collett coming second in 44.80.

The triumph was tarnished by the suspension of Matthews and Collett after the medal ceremony, where they were talking to each other and fidgeting while the US national anthem played, leading many to believe it was a Black Power protest like that of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968.

The Associated Press noted that the casual behavior of Matthews and Collett during the playing of the anthem as "disrespectful," and described the conduct as follows:

"Collett, bare-footed, leaped from the No. 2 tier to the No. 1 stand beside his teammate. They stood sideways to the flag, twirling their medals, with Matthews stroking his chin. Their shoulders slumped, neither stood erect nor looked at the flag. ... As whistles and catcalls continued, Collett raised a clenched fist to the crowd before entering the portal of the dressing room."[1]

In an interview after the medal ceremony with the American Broadcasting Company, Collett said the national anthem meant nothing to him.[2] He explained that he had felt unable to honor the anthem because of the struggle faced by African Americans at the time: "I couldn't stand there and sing the words because I don't believe they're true. I wish they were. I believe we have the potential to have a beautiful country, but I don't think we do." The pair were banned from future Olympic competition by the IOC; since John Smith had pulled a hamstring 80 meters into the final while leading and had been ruled unfit to run, the USA were unable to field a team in the 4x400m relay and were forced to scratch from the event.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Milburn, Matthews Win Gold, But U.S. Trails". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. 1972-09-08. Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  2. ^ Chuck Johnson (2010-03-23). "Matthews, Collett Barred for Conduct on Victory Stand". The Milwaukee Journal.