Ex-Olympian reflects on his 1932 triumph in Los Angeles
Walnut Creek, Calif. — Hector Dyer is looking forward to attending the Olympic Games in 1984, 52 years after he won a gold medal in the Los Angeles Coliseum as a member of the United States's 400-meter relay team.
For Mr. Dyer, a semiretired resident of this city some 25 miles east of San Francisco, the stadium will reverberate with fond memories of the Xth Olympiad as well as the sights and sounds of the XXIIIrd. Although he won fame as a collegiate sprinter at Stanford University in Palo Alto, the lanky Dyer learned how to run at Inglewood High, just a few miles from the Coliseum.
Having the Olympics on one's home turf was not only convenient - he commuted from his home to the Games in his father's 12-cylinder Cadillac - but also enabled him to savor the sidelights, which included the comic as well as the glamorous.
Among his most vivid memories:
* Getting on the train in San Francisco to go home after apparently failing to make the US team in the only event he tried for - the 200-meter dash - only to look at a newspaper and learn he had been named to run in the 4 X 100 relay.
* Baton hand-off problems in the final race that probably added a second to the world-record winning time (40 seconds) and almost got the US team disqualified.
* Turning a profit after the Games by purchasing a number of the Olympic village living units and converting them into beach houses and residences.
* Taking some foreign friends to a party at ''Pickfair,'' the sumptuous home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford - and dancing with ''America's sweetheart.''
Despite his unusual running style - or perhaps because of it - Dyer was one of several California sprinters who bettered the 10-second mark in the 100-yard dash before the '32 Olympics. His best time was 9.6 seconds, amazing in the light of the fact that he had trouble with the four-point stance because of his 6 ft., 3 in. height and preferred a standing start. But Dyer's 9-foot stride was two feet longer than that of most runners, and he seemed to soar over the track.
A major collegiate rivalry developed between Dyer - Stanford's ''Blond Flash'' - and ''Flying Frankie'' Wykoff, star sprinter for the University of Southern California. Over a two-year period, they traded victories in the 100- and 220-yard dashes. At a climactic Stanford-USC meet in their senior year, 1931 , Dyer beat Wykoff in the 220 but lost to him in the 100.
The following year they found themselves running the third (Dyer) and fourth (Wykoff) legs of the 4 X 100 relay in the Olympics.
That neither one qualified as US entries for the 100- or 200-meter races was due in part to the appearance of a new force in American sports - the black athlete. At the 1932 Olympic tryouts in Palo Alto were 10 sprinters who could run 100 yards in less than 10 seconds and the 220 in comparably fast times. The three who won the right to run for the US in the 100- and 200-meter Olympic races were Eddie Tolan, Ralph Metcalfe, and George Simpson; Tolan and Metcalfe were black.
Four years later the great black trackman Jesse Owens was to set the world, and Adolf Hitler, on their ears with a stunning Olympic performance in Berlin.
After failing to qualify, a disappointed Hector Dyer spent the night in San Francisco, then boarded a train the next morning to go home. Before the train reached Palo Alto he had seen a newspaper headline which said: ''Dyer Picked for Relay; He's Missing.''
Afraid he'd missed his chance, Dyer jumped off the train at Palo Alto and hurried to the training center at Stanford. He was reassured that he was still on the team, along with Wykoff, ''Bullet Bob'' Kiesel of UC-Berkeley, and Emmett Toppino of Louisiana State University.
Dyer says they called it ''the White Man's consolation.''
Now all they had to do was win. Talented as they were, it didn't come easily. The Americans won their preliminary heat without difficulty. The final was another matter. At the end of the first 100 meters, leadoff man Kiesel stumbled as he handed off to Toppino. Some judges said he had thrown the baton as he fell , which would have been a foul, but a quickly developed film showed it was a legitimate handoff. The exchange between Dyer and Wykoff (who had a rather casual attitude toward the procedure, according to Dyer) was not muffed, but Wykoff did not start running soon enough. Dyer surged ahead of him and had to hold up and then hand him the baton. As he sped past his teammate, Dyer yelled, ''Get going!'' The press later reported that Wykoff's ''teammate cheered him on.''
Dyer recently reviewed a film of the race, and he says he feels sure that without those two incidents they could have knocked another second off the world record. The 1936 US team set a new record of 39.8 seconds in the 4 X 100, but it was not run in 40 seconds or less again until the US clocked 39.5 in 1956.
With the Olympics over and a cherished gold medal among his many trophies, Dyer had to go to work. The depression was on, money was scarce, and he had promised his father that he would not spend any more time on track. However, Dyer had been scheduled to run for the US in the British-American relays in San Francisco two weeks after the Olympics. At the request of the American team, the senior Dyer approved one more competition.
Hector Dyer's last race was a victory over the British in the 4 X 100 relay.
But he did have a bit of Olympic business to finish - those units that had housed the athletes from around the world.
It began when the Olympic Committee started looking for a way to finance the 550-unit village of prefabricated cottages. Dyer suggested the units be sold in advance; after the games, the owners would move the cottages to their own lots. Dyer sold most of the houses, and earned commissions. He sold three to his mother, who moved them to Laguna Beach for summer houses. Some he purchased himself, moving them into the hills and combining two to form one residence.
Participants in the 1984 Olympics will be housed in dormitories at USC and UCLA.
As for Hector Dyer, after a long and successful business career, he's still involved in real estate - and the Olympics.