VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Journalist Jim Dunaway, a newly-installed member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, has probably crafted a few million carefully-chosen words on his favorite sport in a legendary career that has now spanned 54 years.
But ask him to select just a few highlights of all those years pounding the keys on typewriters and laptops and he’s sometimes at a loss for any words at all.
You really need to twist this man’s arm to get a proper answer.
That’s exactly what happened last Saturday, a few hours before Dunaway’s formal induction into the Hall of Fame, which is located at The Armory Track Center in Manhattan.
Encountered at the massive Virginia Beach Convention Center, where the Jesse Owens Awards Banquet, featured event of the final full day of the 30th annual meeting of USA Track and Field, the national governing body for the sport, was taking place, Dunaway reluctantly probed his voluminous memory bank and hesitatingly came through with a response.
“Really, I haven’t even thought about it, “ he first said.
“If I came up with something, I’d probably wake up in the middle of the night and thought I should have said something else,....”
But then he relented.
“Oh, maybe Al Oerter at Tokyo in 1964,” he conceded.
“All the cartilage on his right side was torn, almost up to his shoulder, and they told him he couldn’t even do any exercise for six weeks.
“Two days later, Oerter gets into the ring, and he wins.
“We were all surprised just to see him throw in the qualifying.
“He took one warmup throw, and as he told us later, ‘ I thought I was going to die.’
“Then he took one qualifying throw and I believe he set an Olympic record; so he didn’t have to throw any more then.
“Then he came back that afternoon in the final, and won it in the fifth round. So he didn’t have to throw his sixth, which he was very happy about.
“There were only a few people there in the interview room when he walked in. He pulled up his singlet, and he’s taped very tight, right up to his armpit, and down to below his stomach, below his navel.
“The first words out of his mouth were “I feel like a goddamn mummy.’
“Only then did he proceed to talk about the event. All very impressive.”
Well, how about another?
“It could be Carl Lewis at Atlanta in 1996,” said Dunaway.
“He really had no business (long) jumping 8 meters 50 (27 feet, 10 1/4 inches.) But he pulled that one out of somewhere (to capture his fourth straight Olympic gold, matching the feat Oerter achieved in 1968.)
“That was also the night Michael Johnson won the 400 meters, the first of his double (three days later, he’d take the 200) and that was big.
“But Carl upstaged him and it was kind of funny.”
Very few other denizens of pressboxes at major stadia of the world have ever upstaged Jim Dunaway.
He has covered 14 consecutive Olympic Games, starting with the Melbourne Games of 1956, a streak that includes the 1980 Moscow Games, which many other America’s journalists boycotted when America’s team, under edict of President Jimmy Carter, was ordered to boycott, too.
But Dunaway persisted and was there, has written from every Games since, through Beijing in 2008, and he plans to be at London in 2012, as well.
For 28 years, Dunaway lived in Tenafly, NJ, just over the George Washington Bridge, and was a fixture on the Big Apple track scene. Now he resides in Austin, Texas, a better locale for his special needs son, David.
In addition to all his Olympic writing, Dunaway has covered all but one of the IAAF World Outdoor Championships, since the initial edition at Helsinki in 1983; 52 NCAA championship outdoor meets, and over 100 indoor and outdoor National (AAU, TAC, now USATF) championship meets.
He’s also written a long array of magazine articles and his book, the Sports Illustrated Book of Track and Field: The Running Events, sold over 200,000 copies and stayed in print over 20 years.
These days, Dunaway serves as an editor of American Track and Field magazine and is a frequent contributor to IAAF publications and websites.
His bylines have appeared in the New York Times and many other newspapers around the nation; Track and Field News, Sports Illustrated, Runner’s World, The Runner, Esquire, and lots more.
Surely impressive, certainly so for a man whose primary career has always been the advertising industry. “You’ve got to understand, this was my hobby,” he reminds you.
Clearly moved by his call to the dais to accept his National Track and Field Hall of Fame award, Dunaway said, “I certainly do want to thank the hundreds of people who have helped me over the years. Coaches, athletes, other reporters, statisticians, editors and officials. I’d like to name them all but it would take until midnight, so I won’t.
“But I know who they are and they know who they are, and I hope they know how grateful I am.
“Of course, I’m grateful to USA Track and Field for honoring me. I’m happy to
accept this, with a great deal of pleasure, and I’ll do my best to live up to it in the future.”
Joining Dunaway in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010 were Oregon mile great Dyrol Burleson, a two-time USA Olympian and the second American to break the 4:00 mark in the mile; the late Ralph Craig, the Michigan grad who won the 100 and 200 sprints at the 1912 Olympic Games, and the late Roy Cochran, whose career spanned the World War II years, as the USA national 400 hurdles champion as an Indiana student in 1939, who came back from military service to win the gold medal in the one-lap barrier race at the 1948 London Games.
And the final inductee was Jearl Miles-Clark, the Gainesville, Fla. product who went on to qualify for a record five USA Olympic teams, win the world outdoor 400-meter championship in 1993 and the world indoor 400 title in 1997; set the still-standing American 800-meter record of 1:56.40 in 1999, and collect Olympic relay gold and silver medals.
Miles-Clark gave special thanks to Joe Henderson, her college coach, for “making me go to the Olympic Trials in 1988. I was tired, I was ready to go home (after the collegiate season), but he made me go.”
“He said. ‘Miles,’ you are going,’ and I did and it turned my life around.”
“That’s where I learned there was track life after college, and it was the beginning of my professional career.”
Miles-Clark had one (joking) apology: “To coach Henderson, for making me run cross country.”
She gave further credit to J.J. Clark, her husband and coach,as “my rock, the person I could depend on anytime, all the time.”
And to sisters-in-law Joetta Clark and Hazel Clark, her history-makers as the only single-family USA Olympic event team (in the 800 at the 2000 Sydney Games.)
Her parting message:
“If you don’t remember me for anything else after tonight, just know that I ran hard, I ran to win. I focused on being the best that I could be on that day, that I worked hard to be the best before that day. And that I gave it 100 percent.
“Some people would come up to me after a race (she didn’t win) and ask, ‘ why are you smiling? you didn’t win.’
“But I didn’t have to win every day. If it happened, it was not my day. As long as I gave it my best, that’s all I ever asked of myself.”