Old Glory is New Again: Alumnus Reclaims Track and Field Record
Now, at 72, Dana Clarke ’62 is the College’s oldest record holder.
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
In mid-September of this year, Assistant Track and Field Coach Craig First was working in his office when he had an unannounced visitor.
“I need you to look something up for me,” the older gentleman said. “What’s your 400-meter record?” First pointed to the sheets thumbtacked above his desk. 49.48 seconds.
“Then I gotta write something down for you,” the man replied, and he grabbed a notepad from the coach’s desk.
“He writes down his name, Dana Clarke, writes down a time, it says 49.3, and then he writes next to it Oberlin, and then he writes underneath 1962,” First said. “And he’s like, ‘I ran that at the conference championship in 1962. I should be the school record holder. … Email me when you change it.’”
Anyone who knows anything about track and field, or any individual sport, knows the likelihood of a record standing for 50 years is slim to none. But Clarke seemed “pretty determined,” First said, so the coach looked into it.
It turned out Clarke was right, but proving it was no easy task. After Head Coach Duane Gomez and the College’s Sports Information Director Marty Fuller were unable to confirm Clarke’s claim, First sent out a request to the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC).
“Everybody back in 1962 … was in the OAC,” First said. Sure enough, the OAC had a paper record of the 1962 conference meet results. Clarke was right, but there was a catch. Dana Clarke ran a 49.3 second 440-yard dash, which is roughly two meters longer than the 400-meter run. “In no way could we possibly not give it to him, because obviously if he covered a farther distance at a faster time than we currently had, he definitely had to have it,” First said.
But before he could amend the annals, First had to make some adjustments. Since Clarke’s time was recorded using a stopwatch, not an automatic timing system, First had to add 0.14 seconds based on a standard established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He also had to use a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association conversion factor to bring the time down from 440 yards to 400 meters.
The revised time came out to 49.15 seconds. “If he were to be running for us right now,” First said, “he would be one of the top three runners in the conference.”
Clarke himself was a little more reserved about his new (old) record. “It’s kind of a footnote in your life,” he said. “The real pleasure of winning a race like that is actually in the winning it.”
In September, Clarke returned to Kenyon for the first time in 50 years, and he brought along his son. “I took him around campus and all of that,” Clarke said. “So we walked down to the fieldhouse, and I’d seen somewhere that somebody else held a record and it wasn’t as good a time as mine, and so I said, ‘Hey, while we’re at it, I want to set the record straight.’”
Clarke, a native of California, arrived at Kenyon in 1958 without a clue about the College. “I had a relationship with a beautiful young lady in high school,” he said, “and her father was a graduate of Kenyon, and he figured that a great way to get rid of me was to send me to Kenyon.”
At the time, there was no track team. In fact, there wasn’t even much of a track. “[It was] in the shape of a trapezoid with three corners,” Clarke said. “It hadn’t been groomed in years and was badly overgrown.”
But Clarke, who was also the Lords’ running back, recruited the football team’s line coach to help get a track squad together. “He had no experience with track and field,” Clarke said. Still, the motley crew of off-season football players and former high school runners did okay, and by the end of the 1962 season, “I was in excellent shape,” Clarke said.
Two weeks before the championship, however, things took a turn for the worse. In a race at Denison University, Clarke pulled his hamstring. “I couldn’t really train properly going into the championship meet,” he said.
At the conference meet, Clarke managed to win his heats and secure a spot in the final, but his injury still nagged him.
“I reminded myself that I had to go out slowly to keep from stressing my hamstring as I accelerated through the first curve,” Clarke said. Not long after the gun went off, that strategy put him yards behind the leaders. “They were 20 yards in front of me going down the back stretch, so I picked up my pace and started my kick going into the last curve.”
“I laughed as I caught them on the way to the finish line.” Clarke said. By his own account, he won by ten yards. He didn’t run again after that. “There was an All-Ohio Championship that I could have gone to,” he said, “but I still had finals to study for.”
“You know,” Clarke said of his record setting pace, “I had a lot left in the tank. I could have run much faster.” But in 50 years, no one has.
“That’s unheard of,” First said. “We’ll see how long that will continue to stand.” He already has someone in mind for the job. “We have one guy that I think is capable of getting it,” First said, “because his high school [personal record] is 49.47, Noah Winters [’15].” But with Clarke back in the record book, Winters will have a tougher task.
Oddly enough, Clarke is looking forward to seeing his reinstated record fall. “It’s kind of nice to have a record,” he said, “[but] it’ll be nice to have it broken and to be able to share that experience with some other athlete.”
Even if some Lord beats his 400 time, Clarke has another Kenyon record, one he set off the field. “I was the first person to get tried by the new student council for having a woman in my room after hours,” he said. “And nobody can take it away from me.”