At the turn of 1932, Bill Carr was a virtual unknown on the athletics circuit, having never won a competitive race.
The pre-eminent American middle-distance runner of the time was “Blazin’ Ben” Eastman, a reigning 400m world record holder who had been described in the New York Times as ''the greatest quarter- and half-miler the world ever saw.” It is fair to say that in sporting terms the pair were poles apart.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Carr was trained in athletics by former Olympian Lawson Rob-ertson while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Despite his obvious talent, Carr was initially unable to convert his gift into victories – a habit that lasted until the IC4A Intercolle-giate Championships of 1932.
With just months to go before the Olympic Games, Carr came up against reigning record holder Eastman in the 400m and, against all odds, secured victory. A few weeks later he did the same again, this time at the Olympic trials.
In the blink of an eye, 21-year-old Carr had not just thrust himself into the US Olympic squad, he had also made himself favourite for gold. The tables had been turned in astonish-ing fashion.
After cruising through the heats, Carr lined up in the final at the Olympic Stadium in front of a crowd eager to see who would triumph between the young up-start and the past-master.
Eastman led for most of the race, but with less than 100 metres to go, Carr pulled up along-side him and sprinted to victory, with Eastman taking silver. Moreover, the winning time of 46.2 seconds represented a new world record.
Carr carried his sublime form into the 4x400m relay and, in the absence of Eastman, who was left out to ease his Olympic workload, he anchored the US team to victory with another world record time of 3 minutes 8.2 seconds, securing his second gold medal.
A few days later, an Illinois newspaper wrote of his achievements: “To the world at large, he’s just another track star […] but to a lot of people here who have followed him since his rather insignificant debut as a member of the Pine Bluff high school track team seven years ago, his success has yet to reach its peak.
“His style is natural. It comes from a perfectly proportioned body, not muscular, but healthy and firm. He is five feet seven inches tall, weighs about 145 pounds and has a full chest, strong thighs and symmetrical calves. It is his big chest and strong lungs with plenty of room to expand that impart strength to his twinkling legs.
Like so many other amateurs of his era, rather than using the Olympic Games as a catalyst for further triumph, he decided to pursue interests away from the sporting arena.
Speaking to a South Carolina newspaper in January 1933, he announced his imminent re-tirement: “I expect to be a member of the United States track and field team that will tour Europe next summer. When the team returns my uniform and spiked shoes will be put away for good. I’m going to devote every minute of my time to business. I don’t think a man can be both a good athlete and a good businessman.”
As for Eastman, he too never reached the same heights again. In 1934, he announced his own retirement from running, returning two years later to contest the trials for the Berlin Olympics, but could only finish fifth.
Any hopes of a comeback for Carr disappeared in March 1933 when he was involved in a car accident and broke both his ankles and his pelvis. He never competed again.
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