G. Larry James
Class of 1966
G. Larry James, a former champion runner who won gold and silver medals in the racially charged 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, died Thursday, on his birthday, at his home in Galloway, N.J. He was 61.
G. Larry James with a silver medal in the 1968 Olympics.
The cause was colon cancer, said William Preston, the coordinator of cross-country and track and field at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J. James had been the athletic director there for 28 years.
James, nicknamed the Mighty Burner, was an explosive runner, but deceptively so. Slender and carrying only 155 pounds on his 6-foot frame, he ran with a floating, almost feathery stride.
He won his Olympic laurels in Games best remembered for a black power demonstration staged by his fellow African-American teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos during an awards ceremony in October 1968.
Standing on the winners’ platform, Smith, who had won the gold medal in the 200-meter dash, and Carlos, who had won the bronze in that event, bowed their heads and raised a black-gloved fist as the “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.
The display of politics at the Games angered the International Olympic Committee, which forced the United States Olympic Committee to send the two home.
Three days later, in the 400-meter final, the United States swept the medals with Lee Evans first, James second and Ron Freeman third. Evans (43.86 seconds) and James (43.97) broke the world record.
At the medals ceremony, the three Americans wore black socks and black berets and raised their fists, but when the national anthem was played, they removed the berets and lowered their fists.
Two days after that, those three runners and Vince Matthews won the 4x400-meter relay in 2 minutes 56.16 seconds, earning gold medals and a world record that would last 24 years. There was no demonstration during the awards ceremony.
In 1974, in an interview with The New York Times, James expressed second thoughts about his participation in the protest. “I was young, and was expected to have answers to all kinds of questions,” he said. “I went along with people who were my idols. I still respect them, as athletes, but I’m my own man now.”
George Larry James was born Nov. 6, 1947, in Mount Pleasant, N.Y. “I started track in seventh grade because I couldn’t do anything else very well,” he told Track and Field News in 1968.
At White Plains High School, his main events were the intermediate hurdles and the triple jump. He went on to Villanova University, where he won four N.C.A.A. titles and broke or tied world indoor records at 440, 500 and 600 yards.
In the 1968 Penn Relays in Philadelphia, he ran the 440-yard anchor leg of a one-mile relay in 43.9 seconds, the fastest at the time.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Villanova and a master’s in public policy from Rutgers in 1987.
In 2003, he was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. He also served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, achieving the rank of major.
He is survived by his wife of 37 years, the former Cynthia Daughtry; a daughter, Tamaiya Forbey of Galloway; a son, Larry, of Tulsa, Okla.; five grandchildren; a sister, Julia James of White Plains; and his mother, Martha James of Greenburgh, N.Y.
In 1973, James ran for the International Track Association’s new and short-lived professional circuit.
After his running career, he was a manager of United States track teams in international competitions and, beginning in 1980, dean of athletics and recreational programs and services at Richard Stockton College.
At Stockton, he helped secure training camps for the United States women’s Olympic basketball team in 1992, Saudi Arabia’s World Cup soccer team in 1994 and its Olympic soccer team in 1996. Last year, the college renamed its track and soccer facility “G. Larry James Stadium.”
In 1973, when the college was known as Stockton State College, he was assistant athletic director and coached the track team.
“Occasionally,” he told The Times, “I spot the boys 20 yards in a 440 and, if I catch them, they have to do three more laps.”
He usually caught them, he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 11, 2008
An obituary on Saturday about G. Larry James, a runner who won gold and silver medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, best remembered for a black power demonstration staged by teammates, misstated the record time he helped set in the 4x400-meter relay at those Summer Games. It was 2 minutes 56.16 seconds, not 3:56.16.
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