Honorable Herbert ("Herb") Henry McKenley, OM
July 10, 1922 – November 26, 2007
“Herb McKenley grew up in Pleasant Valley, Clarendon with his elder sister, Vioris, and younger brother, Dudley… He learnt three R’s – Readin’, Riting’ and Rithmetic – at Pleasant Valley Elementary School; from his grandfather William Manning he received the rudiments of the fourth R – Runnin’.
Grandpa Manning used to match young Herb against all comers to the McKenley home. The visitors received varying handicaps, depending on their age; the race was always a brisk sprint from the gate in. The old man, careless of his grandson’s amateur status, gave the light-stepping, barefooted boy a three-penny prize for every win.
Herb’s father, Alexander, was a doctor in May Pen… He wanted his eldest son to follow his footsteps. Herb’s mother, Zilpha, wanted her son to be a violinist. So Herb became a violinist, amateur class. Sent off in 1934 to Mico Practicing School in Kingston, twenty-year-old Herb began taking violin lessons…
He enrolled at Calabar High School in January, 1937, and it was there that enthusiasm for competitive running was really stirred. If (Arthur) Wint supplied some of the inspiration, it was the school’s coach, Frank Laing, who ensured much of the preparation. Laing… stressed correct style rather than heavy workload. With this background fifteen-year old Herb made his debut in organized track and field on April 5, 1938 at “Champs”.
The boys’ high school track athletics championships were then, as they are today, the Alpha and Omega of the sport in Jamaica. Started in 1910 as a one-day event involving six schools, the meet has now become a fierce three-day contest for individual and team honors among more than thirty schools… “Champs” is where the young Jamaican athlete receives his baptism of fire. When Herb ran the “Champs”, 1938 to 1941, he lost, literally nine times out of ten. The boy who whipped him four out of six was Leroy (“Coco”) Brown of Wolmer’s High School.
At “Champs” he never failed to finish in the first three in either the 100, 220 or quarter. Twice he placed in more than one event at the same meet; in 1940 he ran in all three.”
In 1942 he won a scholarship to Boston College in the United States. He moved to the University of Illinois in 1945, where he met up with the coach Leo Johnson, who helped to launch McKenley's campaign to become the "world's greatest quarter-miler".
Herb McKenley won the NCAA championships in 220 yd (200 m) and 440 yd (400 m) in 1946 and 1947. He was also the AAU champion in 440 yd (400 m) in 1945, 1947 and 1948, and was also the head of the list of world best times in 100 m (10.3), 200 m (20.4) and 400 m (46.2) in 1947. He is the only person to have ever done this feat.
Just before the 1948 London Olympics, McKenley ran the new world record in 440 yd (400 m) of 46.0, a record he broke again a month later, clocking 45.9. But at the Olympics itself, McKenley finished only second in 400 m, behind teammate Arthur Wint and was fourth in 200 m. He probably lost a gold medal in the 4x400 m relay when Wint pulled his muscle in the final.
At the 1951 Pan-American Games in Buenos Aires, McKenley was third in 100 m, 200 m and 400 m, the only person to ever perform this feat.
At the Helsinki Olympics, McKinley was second in 100 m (the first four clocked 10.4 in a very close race) and also second in 400 m. He finally got his Olympic gold, when he helped the Jamaican 4x400 m relay team to win the race with a new world record of 3.03.9.
In retirement Herb McKenley became an acclaimed coach and administrator. For six years, he was President of the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association. Until his final infirmity he was seen often at the trackside at the National Stadium advising young athletes, and, it is said, would feed and clothe them from his own pocket.
In 1964, for the first time, McKenley entered a Jamaican high school team in the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Now, almost 30 Jamaican high schools send more than 400 boys and girls a year to the meet, held in April. Since their first year, Jamaican schools have won almost half of Penn’s major relays for high school boys and more than half for girls.
Herb is survived by Beverley, his wonderful wife of 40 years, four children Herbert Jr., Michael and Kirsten, and Laura Bryce; a stepdaughter, Yanick Omeally; eight grandchildren; and a brother, Dudley, of Jamaica.
Herb McKenley was the trail blazer that set the standard and established Jamaica's rich tradition as Olympic track stars, that has continued with our current crop of world beaters. We treasure the athletic legacy he has left behind for his beloved country; the final tribute that we as a nation can pay to this outstanding Jamaican is to accord him an official funeral.
HERB MCKENLEY, By E. Townshend, J. Carnegie, H McKenley
Herb McKenley - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia