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Wayne Collett, reflecting on the 1972 Munich Olympics

March 17, 2010 |  6:25 pm


Wayne Collett was a world-class sprinter at UCLA back in the day when his best event was run at 440 yards, not at today's 400 meters. He also starred in the 440-yard intermediate hurdles and ran the 220-yard sprint as well as many relays. In 1971, he was team caption for Jim Bush, coach of the Bruins from 1965 to 1984.

Collett died Wednesday morning at age 60 after battling cancer. Bush said Collett "was like another son to me.... I coached and trained athletes for 56 years, and I would rate Wayne Collett the greatest athlete I ever worked with." This comes from a man who also coached John Smith, Dwight Stones, Greg Foster and Willie Banks, and whose teams won five NCAA championships.

In 1972, the year after Collett graduated from UCLA with a degree in political science, he qualified for the Summer Olympics at Munich, where he was one of the favorites in the 400 meters. After his UCLA teammate John Smith pulled up lame in the final, Collett wound up second to Vince Matthews, a social worker from New York. During the post-race medals ceremony, Collett and Matthews caused a furor when they failed to stand at attention on the medals platform. The International Olympic Committee, led by Avery Brundage, was incensed and the next day banished the two athletes from the Munich Games.

Collett returned to the United States to get married and go to grad school. He received hate mail for months. A year after the Games, he spoke with a Times reporter about his life in the aftermath of the Olympics.

"People say that Mark Spitz's gold medals are worth $5 million to him," Collett told an interviewer. "One of my professors told me what I did cost me $100,000. Maybe it did, but my peace of mind, being able to sleep at night, being able to live with myself, is worth that much."

To read the rest of that story as it appeared in The Times in 1973, click here.

Bush put it this way Wednesday, "What he did, you have to know Wayne. He was the type of man who was never afraid to speak out about something that is right. He was that kind of guy."

Click here to read the full obituary.

--Claire Noland

Photo: Wayne Collett, second from right, takes the baton from UCLA teammate Warren Edmonson as USC's Willie Deckard, far left, sprints away from teammate Ron Pharris in a 1971 track meet.

Credit: Los Angeles Times