Not one particular moment stands out for Willie Davenport about the 1968 Summer Olympic Games held in Mexico City. Everything about the experience was something to be cherished forever for the track star, who won a gold medal at those game in the 110-meter high-hurdles event.
"The entire trip was a highlight, just being there at the Olympic Games," said Davenport, a former Alexandria resident, who is a colonel in the National Guard Bureau in Crystal City.
Davenport garnered the gold with a then-record time of 13.3 seconds in the 110-high hurdles, besting silver medalist Erun Hall, also of the United States. As Davenport crossed the finish line that day in front of a crowd of more than 100,000 fans, he triumphantly raised his arms skyward.
"That was the only race in my entire career I knew I had won from the start," said Davenport, who currently resides in Falls Church. "All my training just clicked."
That year — 1968 — was a trying year for the United States. But the U.S. Olympic team's success at the Games in Mexico, of which Davenport was a major part, brought a measure of joy to the country.
In a brief history of the modern Olympics, the ESPN 1998 Sports Almanac wrote of those 1968 Games, "The Mexico City Olympics were another chapter in a year buffeted by the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the Russian Invasion in Czechoslovakia."
Davenport said he was able to maintain his focus at the Games, even with the turmoil surrounding the world.
"As an athlete, what you're looking at is your competition," he said. "You're focusing on the business on hand, and that business is competing at the Games. You've focused on that for four years. So if it's rainy, cloudy, [or if there's] political unrest, the athletes' focus is on one thing. I felt like you needed to do what you do — do your part."
DAVENPORT WENT INTO THE '68 games as the top ranked 110-high hurdler in the world. So, he had enormous expectations on him.
"It applies unbelievable pressure to you," he said. "Words can't explain when you're No. 1 and expected [to win]. The toughest thing is to be on top."
Following his gold medal win in the event, Davenport experienced what every Olympian dreams of when he stood on the medal stand as the national anthem echoed across the Mexico City stadium.
"There's no definition for how that felt," he said. "To stand on that podium and watch that flag go up and hear that national anthem play — all the music you hear in your life, there is no sweeter sound. The flag goes up, there are 100,000 people in the stands, and you're on top."
Amazingly, Davenport took part in five Olympics during his incredible career. Before the '68 Games, he had competed at his first Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964. And after the '68 Games, Davenport went on to compete at the Summer Games of 1972 (Munich) and 1976 (Montreal), as well as the Winter Games at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980, where he was a member of the U.S. four-man bobsled team. At the '76 Summer Games, Davenport won a bronze in the 110-high hurdles.
Of his first Olympic Game experience at Tokyo in '64, Davenport recalled, "It was a new experience, the first time I represented the U.S. abroad. I'm young, everything is exciting. You look up in the stands and see 60- to 70,000 people, and the adrenaline is flowing."
DAVENPORT, 58, STILL HAS HIS hands on the pulse of sports. With the National Guard Bureau, Col. Davenport is chief of Sports Management, where he helps set policies and guidelines on how sports should be run in the national guard. He also still has ties with the Olympics as vice president of the Olympic Alumni. And some of his athletic hunger is curbed on the racquetball court, a sport he has been playing since 1990. Two years ago, in fact, he won the U.S. Open Racquetball Championships in Memphis, Tenn., in the Men's 55-Over Division.
Davenport, a graduate of Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., has lived in Northern Virginia since 1990. Divorced, he has three children, seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Linda Wolf and her son attended the recent Winter Olympic Games in Utah as friends of Davenport. She marveled at the way both current and former Olympic athletes reacted to Davenport when they were in his presence at receptions or ceremonies during the week of those Games.
"They would look at him with such respect," recalled Wolf. "If you mention Willie Davenport, everybody [associated with the Olympics] knows him.
"He has this spirit in him that is so filled with confidence he doesn't have to tell anybody about it," said Wolf. "He radiates it. He's confident, but not arrogant. ... Willie saw to it that we had very special treatment the entire time we were there."
<sh>Local Restaurants Help Davenport
<bt>The Olympics are over, but the costs are not.
To celebrate the accomplishments of the U.S. Olympic team — and raise money for Olympic hopefuls — seven local restaurants have generously agreed to participate in a very special evening.
On Thursday, April 25, from 5 p.m. to closing, these restaurants will donate a portion of the evening's proceeds to a local Olympic fund. This money will help with costs for coaches and scholarships.
In attendance will be Willie Davenport. He has invited more than 35 fellow Olympians to join him and mingle with the guests at the restaurants. Each participating establishment will have an Olympic flag at its site to designate its participation.
Restaurants include Bugsy's Pizza, Bullfeathers, King Street Blues, Union Street Public House, Sizzling Express, Southside 815 and Stardust Restaurant.