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News27 Nov 2007

World record breaker Herb McKenley passes away at 85


Herb McKenley holds on for the 400m silver medal at the 1948 Olympics (© Getty Images)

MonteCarloIt is with the deepest sadness that the IAAF has been informed that Jamaica’s Herbert Henry McKenley - Born 10 July 1922 - passed away on Monday 26 November after a long illness.

‘Herb’ by which he was more commonly and affectionately known, was a two-time 400m and one-time 100m individual Olympic silver medallist, who eventually rose to the top of the podium as a member of the Jamaican team which struck gold in the 4x400m at the 1952 Olympics. And what a gold it was too, as it was achieved in a World record of 3:03.9.

Running the third leg for the team McKenley received the baton more than 12 metres behind, and in one of the most impressive legs of all-time made up that deficit handing over in the lead to individual 400m winner George Rhoden on anchor. McKenley’s split was 44.6 seconds. No man had ever run a relay leg in under 45 seconds before that moment.

Across 1947 and 1948 McKenley set the World record for the individual one lap (400m / 440yds) on three occasions with a 400m best of 45.9 coming on the 2 July 1948 in Milwaukee, USA, just under a month before he contested the 400m final at the London Olympic Games (5 Aug) where he finished second to compatriot Arthur Wint. McKenley blasted out a dramatic first 200m which took him some metres clear of the field at that point but he was caught for gold with 20 metres remaining. In the 200m final, McKenley finished fourth.

In 1952, as well as the relay victory McKenley came away with two other Olympic medals. This time he finished strongly in the 400m missing out on gold by less than a metre from yet another Jamaican ace, George Rhoden. Only four days earlier in Helsinki’s Olympic stadium McKenley’s lunge for victory in the 100m was even closer with USA’s Lindy Remigino given the judge's verdict after the then 30-year-old Jamaican seemed to have caught his opponent on the line.

Outside the Olympics, McKenley took NCAA sprint doubles in 1946 and 1947 at 220 and 440 yards, and in 1947 was the fastest in the world for the three flat sprints - 100m (10.3), 200m (20.4) and 400m (46.2).

In retirement McKenley was coach of the Jamaican team (1954 to 1973) and also served as President of Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association for 12 years and was also a member of various IAAF committees. He was the recipient of the IAAF Veteran Pin in 1987.

In 2003, McKenley was one of the original inductees into the CACAC Hall of Fame.

Immense contribution

“McKenley’s three-fold contribution to athletics as athlete, coach and administrator was immense,” commented IAAF President Lamine Diack.

“One of the premier athletes of his era, he excited the public with his racing which brought home a haul of Olympic honours and World records.”

“As a coach he inspired the next generation of Jamaican athletes, and guided their development by negotiating the placement of many of the leading stars in the American collegiate system when there were still few training opportunities at home.”

“Then as a national and international official, McKenley helped secure the health of the sport in which they would compete.”

“McKenley’s passing is a sad moment for the global athletics community,” concluded President Diack.

Tremendous blow

“The death of Herb McKenley is a tremendous blow to Jamaica,” said Jamaican sports minister Olivia Grange. “He served this country with distinction both as an athlete and as an administrator and he will be sadly missed.”