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History Minute: Arkansas's fastest man

January 25, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.

By Dr. Ken Bridges

Bill Carr was once the fastest man in the world. And it all started in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

William Arthur Carr was born in Pine Bluff in 1909. His early life was not unusual. He, like so many boys, loved to run, and he could run faster than all the others. His parents believed in the importance of education and encouraged him to finish high school where he also pursued athletics. Carr would graduate from Pine Bluff High School in 1927.

In 1929, he enrolled at the prestigious Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, where his academic abilities matched his gift for speed. He would rise to co-captain the varsity track team and would never lose a race while at Penn. His string of victories and good nature made him a popular figure on campus, leading him to become president of his sophomore class in 1930. In his senior year, he was elected to the honors society.

The year 1932 would be a year of wonder for Bill Carr. The Olympics were coming to Los Angeles that summer, the first time they had come to America since the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.

Carr had steadily built a reputation and was the 1931 AAU indoor 300-meter winner, but he was facing the phenomenal runner Ben Eastman of Stanford University, who many sports writers predicted would take the gold medal that year and who had set a world record at another race in March.

That spring, in the IC4A intercollegiate championships, the best college runners in the nation gathered to compete. Carr and Eastman outpaced the rest of the field, and Carr edged out Eastman, winning the 400 meters in 47.0 seconds. Two weeks later, the two would face off once again at the Olympic trials. Carr, in a blaze of speed, finished in 46.9 seconds in the 400 meters.

At the Olympics, the rivalry between Carr and Eastman took center stage. On August 5, the 400 meter race was held. Eastman took an early lead, eventually getting ahead of Carr by almost three meters. Bill Carr piled on an extra burst of speed, putting everything he had into the last stretch of the race. He caught Eastman, and as the finish line approached, pulled ahead, eventually winning by two meters and a fraction of a second.

Bill Carr won the gold medal with a world record time of 46.2 seconds. Two days later, the 1600-meter relay was held. Carr led the American team to the gold medal again with a world record 3 minute, 8.2 second race.

Carr was one of the most celebrated athletes in the world for his triumphs. But his glory would be cut short. In January 1933, a brutal car wreck left him with a broken pelvis and two broken ankles. He would never run again.

He would graduate in 1933 with an economics degree. He married and had one son. He would spend the next several years as an insurance executive and then served as an officer in naval intelligence during World War II. After the war, he would work as an executive with safety equipment manufacturing companies.

Arkansas would never forget his successes. His was the first two-time gold medalist from the state. In 1962, he was inducted into the Arkansas Athletic Hall of Fame in Little Rock just before his sudden death in Tokyo in 1966.

Dr. Ken Bridges is a professor of history and geography at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado and a resident historian for the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society. Bridges can be reached by email at [email protected] southark.edu.

Print Headline: History Minute: Arkansas's fastest man

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