The top 12 400m runners in the World in 1968 all came from the United States but, of course, only three could compete at the Olympic Games. Lee Evans was among the fastest of them – he had won national championships in 1966, 1967 and 1968 and established himself as a brilliant young athletes.
In the US Olympic trials, he broke the world record with a run of 44.06secs and he coasted through the heats before breaking the Olympic record in the semi-final. He initially announced his withdrawal from the final after his friends Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Village, but Carlos convinced him to race, and to win – which he did.
Evans was a confident runner, who expected to hold a comfortable lead on the back straight. Instead, he had his compatriot Larry James breathing down his neck as the line approached the line, so close that Evans was later to recall that he “felt faint”. As they approached the line, though, it was Evans who found the extra strength to seize victory by less than 0.1secs. Ronald Freeman took bronze to give the Americans the clean sweep of medals.
It was no surprise that the three men united in the 4x400m relay to take the United States to another gold medal. The surprise was the extent to which they shattered the world record with a time more than three seconds quicker than any team in history. It would not be beaten for 24 years – which meant it lasted even longer than Bob Beamon's extraordinary high jump record.
Evans was to stay close to athletics in years to come. He coached the national teams of a host of African nations, working in more than 20 countries across the continent.