GOLD MEDALIST SHOWED UP IN REDLANDS, SET RECORDS

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Today, April 23, is the 97th anniversary.

He was dubbed the Golden Streak of the Golden West.

A USC superstar.

He was Sir Charles.

Also known as the Winged foot of Mercury.

At the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Charles Paddock was a gold medal sprinter, winner of the 100-meter and part of the USA’s winning 4 x 100 relay.

Charley Paddock (Photo by Pasadena Sports Hall of Fame)
Charles Paddock, a 3-time Olympic gold medalist, showed up in Redlands and set four world records, tying another on April 23, 1921 (photo by Pasadena Sports Hall of Fame).

It was, in fact, the same Olympiad at which Redlands-based hurdler William Yount had participated.

Ted Runner, the longtime athletic director at the University of Redlands, was careful to point out Paddock’s connection to Redlands. It was long before Runner’s time, but as a lifetime devotee of track & field, Runner was aware of the lore that had preceded him on the venerable university’s grounds.

No less than Guy Daniels, Jr. – whose dad, Guy, Sr. was a Redlands coach of that era – and another ex-Bulldog, Terry Roberts of Yucaipa, who was a student of Olympic history, had known of the legend. Throughout the years, all weighed in with me on Paddock’s visit to Redlands.

Of course, neither Runner, Daniels, Jr., nor Roberts were present for Paddock’s appearance.

Paddock wasn’t quite track’s version of baseball’s Babe Ruth. Or boxing’s Jack Dempsey. Or tennis’ Bill Tilden. But he was a decorated sprint champion.

On April 23, 1921 – less than a year after he’d won the gold medal in Belgium – Paddock showed up at the University of Redlands. That day, Paddock broke four world records and equaled another one.

Paddock, whose historically significant role in a 1981 motion picture, “Chariots of Fire” (portrayed by Dennis Christopher), had shown up at Redlands for an exhibition. That day, he set no less than five world records.

Paddock, a 100-meter gold medalist in 1920 – the same Games competed at by Yount – was a high-profile athlete during those days.

In “Chariots of Fire,” there was nothing about Redlands, of course.

There was nothing about the world marks he’d set on that April 23, 1921 afternoon.

Paddock, in fact, was a mere character at the 1924 Paris Olympics – a favorite who was chased down by Britain’s Harold Abrahams in the 200-meter.

Still, Paddock was part of America’s winning 4 x 100 relay that year.

FOUR RECORDS SET, ANOTHER TIED AT REDLANDS

At Redlands, the four marks – 100-meter, 200-meter, 300-yard and 300-meter – while equaling the world mark at 100 yards, made the tiny little San Bernardino County city a mark in international track history.

He was clocked at 9 3/5 seconds in the 100-yard dash.

For the 100-meters, he sped 10.40, cracking 1912 U.S. Olympian Donald Lippincott’s mark by 1/5 second.

Multiple Olympic gold medalist (St. Louis and Athens) Archie Hahn’s 21 3/5-seconds over 200-meters fell to 21 1/5 via Paddock.

The world’s fastest human, Bernie Wefers’ 300-yard mark of 30 3/5 seconds was broken by two-fifths … Paddock in 30 1/5 at Redlands.

As for the 300-meter mark, held by 1912 Olympian Pierre Failliott of France in 1908 and equaled by Frigyes Mezei of Hungary in 1913 at 36 2/5 seconds was smashed by Paddock’s speed – 33 4/5 seconds.

best-pictures-of-charley-paddock
This was a typical Charles Paddock finish, turning his left shoulder to the left as he crossed a finish line. This was likely the scene on April 23, 1921 at the University of Redlands when Paddock set world records in four events, tying another mark that same day (photo by USC sports information).

At Redlands that day, there were two races.

Bob Weaver, president of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), was the starter.

No less than a reporter from the old Los Angeles Examiner had shown up that day to record the events. The local newspaper from Redlands was also on the scene.

They described conditions as “bitter” cold. Overcast, a little wind, some rain sprinkles, but it had died by race time.

According to accounts of the day, Paddock crossed two tapes in his first race, four in his second, at least five watches at each tape.

Part of the issues of the era was the eastern troops might not believe the accounts that Paddock set such records. It’s one reason why so many watches were procured. That the AAU president, Weaver, was in attendance helped make it official.

Those records were verified.

Paddock’s main competition came from the likes of Vernon Blenkiron, a 17-year-old from Compton High School , who had squared off against Redlands’ high schooler Bob Allen in the State 100 and 220. Forrest Blalock, who spent two season on USC’s track team, was also running.

Paddock was described as “two yards in front of Blenkiron.” At one point, Paddock was “20 yards ahead of Blalock.”

No, this field did not include the likes of Abrahams, Wiefers, Hahn, Lippincott, Failliott, Mezei or even Yount of Redlands.

TRACK & FIELD NEWS REDLANDS ACCOUNTS

According to Track & Field News, “with one jump he passed the 200-meter and 220-yard marks.

“On around the sharp turn he ran. He seemed to weaken and slow down. Finally, he reached 300 yards. His sprint was nearly gone. Fighting every inch of the way he raced on toward the last tape, the 300-meter mark. He was now on the straightaway again. Pulling with eyes half shut and mouth open he passed the finish line and fell in a heap into the arms of waiting friends.”

On the shorter run that day, T&F News reported it this way:

“Down the stretch they came, Paddock seemingly unable to increase his lead. Fifteen feet from the tape Paddock gave a mighty bound and fairly flew over the finish line two yards ahead of Blenkiron. He came down heavily. Recovering, he took two quick strides and leaped for the tape at 100 meters.

“His first leap had enabled him again to equal the record for 100 yards. The two together gave him the record for 100 meters. Two such leaps as these made it appear that the boy must have had wings or a kangaroo hoof.”

Three years later, in Paris, it was Abrahams who outdueled the Golden Streak of the Golden West for the gold. Paddock took the silver medal back to America.

There was a third Olympics in 1928 at Amsterdam. No medals. No finals. In 1943 at Sitka, Alaska, Paddock perished in an airplane crash. Nearly 43. Born in Texas. He was a U.S. marine. Thirty-eight years later, his memory flashed forward in “Chariots of Fire.”

It was curious that Paddock was California’s prep 220-yard champion in 1916, 1917 and 1918 for Pasadena High, then supplanted by Redlands’ Bob Allen in 1919, then again in 1921. By that point, Paddock was USC’s Golden Streak.

It brought back that Redlands Connection.