World’s fastest human couldn’t outrun alcohol

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

For many years the world’s fastest human was Bob Hayes, the only man to win Olympic gold medals and a Super Bowl ring, and to hold world records in the 60, 100, and 220-yard dashes and the Olympic 100-meter dash at the same time. In the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, he won the Olympic championship in the 100 meter dash in 10 seconds flat, which tied the world record. Five days later, he ran anchor in the finals of the Olympic 440 meter relay. The fastest man on a relay team runs last, so in the anchor leg, he took the baton from Dick Stebbins in the passing zone about five yards sooner than usual. He received the baton in fifth place, 112 yards from the finish line and saw the United Nations in front of him. First, he had to catch Jamaica. Then, he had to catch Russia, then Poland and then France. In 8.7 seconds, Bob Hayes ran the second fastest 110 meters of all time.  Usain Bolt gets credit for an electronically-timed 8.65 seconds, but he did not run on the much-slower cinder track or get hand-times, as Bob Hayes did.  

Bob Hayes was a star player with the Dallas Cowboys.

Jesse Owens, the 1936 four-time Olympic gold medalist, was sitting in the stands next to Hayes’ mother, Mary, during that anchor leg of the 400-meter relay that is one of the most incredible performances in Olympic history. It sends chills up and down my spine to watch the films. The Olympic hero came home to an adoring crowd.

Hayes went on to play in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys, where he gained more than 1000 yards that season and led the NFL in yards per catch (21.8) and receiving touchdowns (12). He was so fast that opposing teams had to play zone defense against him because no one man could cover him when he went out for a pass.  He accomplished all this after coming from a miserable childhood in poverty. He told a reporter, “I didn’t have a normal teen-age life. It was hard and tough . . . pool halls and shoeshine parlors. Even with church on Sunday. It was the fast lane on street corners with my dad.”  

Bob Hayes Was a Great Human Being 

In 1964, the fastest man in the world at 200 meters was not Bob Hayes; it was Henry Carr, who won the U.S. trials that spring to make the Olympic team in the 200 meter race. However, the bungling U.S. Olympic track and field committee cancelled the results of these trials and made all Olympic track and field candidates compete again in the summer in a second trial in Los Angeles.  At that time, Carr was not training for peaking, so he finished fourth and therefore failed to make the Olympic team since only the first three qualify.  Hayes, who had already qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in the 100, finished third in the 200-meter race, qualifying for a place also in the 200 meter race.  In an incredible act of kindness, Bob Hayes gave up his spot on the 200-meter team to Henry Carr.  Carr was added to the 1964 U.S. Olympic team only by Bob Hayes’ generosity. Carr was so grateful to Hayes that he trained twice a day and went on to Tokyo to win the 200 meter race in an Olympic record 20.3 seconds.

Flat Feet and Running Speed

Hayes was born with flat feet. His doctors told his mother that flat feet could prevent him from being able to walk normally, so they put casts on both of his feet to help straighten them out. Several newspaper articles reported incorrectly that putting casts on Bob Hayes feet at an early age was what allowed him to become such a fast runner.  These articles should have stated that Hayes went on to become the world’s fastest human in spite of being abused by some unknowing physicians who almost ruined his athletic career by putting casts on the world’s strongest feet. This nonsense about flat feet slowing you down has been perpetuated by members of the medical profession and during World War II, flat feet would have kept you out of the army, but many studies show that runners who have the flattest feet suffer the fewest sports injuries (Archives of Family Medicine, July 1993;21:64), while those with the highest arches suffer the most injuries, particularly the very common knee cap pain called runner’s knee (Clin J Sport Med, 2007; 17:437-45) because the feet of runners with high arches hit the ground without rolling inward to increase the impact of the foot hitting the ground (Foot Ankle Int, 1995; 16:624-32).

When you run, you land on the outside bottom of your feet and roll inward to absorb the hard shock of your foot striking the ground. This is called pronation and is good for you. Most people who have flat feet have normal arches. Their feet appear flat because they have flexible ankles that allow their feet to roll so far inward that their arches touch the ground, so you can’t see them. The more you roll in, the greater the shock absorption and protection from injury. People with flat feet are often fast runners because rolling in allows their feet to press harder on the ground to send them forward with greater force. Almost all of the world’s great sprinters have flat feet.

Life After Football for an Olympic Champion

Hayes retired from professional football in 1976 and was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame later that year. He had some problems with alcohol and drugs, spent 10 months in jail and was hospitalized three times. In his 50s, he moved back to Jacksonville to live with his parents, but his substance abuse problems continued and he required rehabilitation programs three times after his retirement.  He said, “I’ve got five generations of alcoholics in my family.  Alcoholism is powerful and fatal. I was out there, going nowhere, trying to find a solution. I just had to grow up.”  After being brought to an emergency room for drunkenness, he was told that his drinking had already damaged his heart, liver and kidneys. He was also diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread through his body.  Surgery and radiation failed to control the cancer.  He spoke like a very old man, coughed incessantly, couldn’t walk unassisted, and his legs twitched all the time.  On September 18, 2002, at age 59, he died of kidney failure, liver failure and heart failure. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame seven years after his death. 

Ten Percent of U.S. Adults Will Become Alcoholic If They Drink At All

Alcoholism is often genetic and runs in families.  People who have a parent or sibling who is an alcoholic are four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves.  Alcoholics do not have to drink, but if they take in any amount of alcohol, they have an overwhelming need to keep on drinking. Alcoholics who want to avoid drinking are best off keeping away from friends who drink, avoiding events that serve alcohol, and never keeping alcohol in their presence.  

Alcohol is a Poison

Your liver removes up to 98 percent of the alcohol in your bloodstream, and the other two percent passes out through your kidneys, lungs or sweat.  Most of the alcohol you drink is broken down by your liver into an even stronger poison called acetaldehyde. If your liver is healthy, it will break down acetaldehyde into harmless acetate which is easily converted to harmless carbon dioxide and water.  Your liver can break down 10 to 15  grams of alcohol per hour, which is 2/3rds of a shot glass of hard liquor, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 12- ounce beer. Most doctors recommend that you never take more than two drinks of alcohol in any given day. 

Alcohol can damage every cell in your body.  In particular, it damages your brain, heart, liver, pancreas and your immune system to cause dementia, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, inability to fight infections, liver cirrhosis and cancer. Women who drink during pregnancy are at increased risk for giving birth to deformed babies. Alcoholism can reduce life expectancy by around ten years (NEJM, 2014;371(22):2109–13) and the most common cause of death in an alcoholic is a heart attack or heart failure (Arh Hig Rada Toksikol, Dec 2006;57(4):413–26).  More than 50 percent of suicides are associated with alcohol or drug dependence. 

A Lesson from Bob Hayes’s Young Death

Anyone who cannot stop drinking after one drink should not be drinking at all and should not keep alcohol where it is readily available.   

Many people have the mistaken belief that it is safe and even beneficial for women to take one drink per day and for men to take up to two drinks per day. Almost 30 percent of North Americans drink more than that.  Whatever decision you make about your own consumption of alcohol, do not base it on bad information promoted by the alcoholic beverage industry.  If you see a study reporting benefits of alcohol or any other products that you can buy, always look to see if the sellers of these products funded the research. Many questionable studies have been sponsored by companies and people who want to sell you beverages, foods, supplements, and even prescription drugs. Be skeptical — question everything.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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