Speed merchant Craig claims sprint double

The Detroit-born athlete, Ralph Craig, was originally a hurdling specialist, but in Stockholm he showed his sprinting aptitude to devastating effect.

The 20-year old, who had honed his skills at the University of Michigan, entered the Olympics as holder of the USA’s 100-yard intercollegiate record and the international 220-metre record. He received a big billing in his home country: “Those who have seen him training claim he will show more speed this year than ever before,” said Rhode Island’s Evening News that April.

Craig’s first involvement came in the 100m on 6 July, as he won the last of the 17 first-round heats. There were just six heats in the second round, with the winner of each qualifying for the final, and Craig took his place on the start line for the fourth of them. What followed was remarkable: Craig and his five rivals managed nine false starts between them, before – at the 10th time of asking – they got away. With around 30m left, the American overtook Germany’s Richard Rau, going on to win in convincing style.

The final was almost as staccato. This time there were seven false starts, but once they got going Craig quickly became involved in a three-way tussle with two of his compatriots, Alvah Meyer and the highly-favoured Donald Lippincott. The Official Report detailed the final stages, saying: “Craig ran brilliantly and with enormous power, leaving his rivals behind him, Meyer being the nearest of these. Craig broke the tape 60 centimetres in front of Meyer.” Craig won in 10.8 seconds, Mayer and Lippincott both recorded 10.9, while George Patching and Frank Belote both crossed in 11.0. It had been a gripping race, decided by fractions.

The first round of the 200m was held on 10 July, and Craig competed in the 12th heat. He was only up against one other runner, the Englishman Robert Duncan, and won an unsurprisingly slow race in 24.1 seconds. His semi-final, which took place on the same day, was a livelier affair and Craig upped his game, taking the lead early on to fend off some tough challenges and win in eventual comfort.

The final, a day later, saw Craig and Lippincott go head to head once more. The two Americans started equally well but, with 40m to go, it was clear that Craig would pull away to win. He did so in 21.7 seconds, again by one hundredth of a second, while Great Britain’s Willie Applegarth finished third.

The Official Report spoke of Craig’s heroics in suitably glowing terms. It said: “As in the 100 metres, Craig’s running was magnificent, his victory being the result of extraordinarily fine technics combined with good judgment during the whole race.”Craig seemed set for a long and successful career, but instead chose to retire straight after the Games. He would not be seen in top-level sprinting again, although he was a flagbearer for the USA at the 1948 Games in London – where he was involved with his country’s yachting team but did not compete.