Powerful things often come in small packages. Case in point: Olympian William (“Bill”) Arthur Carr.
Bill Carr was born in Pine Bluff on October 24, 1909. In the fall of 1925, he enrolled in Pine Bluff High School. He wanted to play sports, but there was a problem. At just 5’6” and barely 125 pounds, Bill was too small for football or basketball. However, he was the right size for the track team, and he excelled as a runner and a jumper. Though injuries forced him from the team during his first season, he returned for the following year and gained national attention at the state track meet by winning both the high jump and long jump events with record-breaking performances. He also finished a close second in both the 100- and 220-yard events.
While only a junior, Bill was recognized by state and national sports writers as the premier track star in the nation. Encouraged by a Pine Bluff banker, Bill set his sights on an Ivy League education and enrolled in Pennsylvania’s Mercersburg Preparatory Academy for his senior year. While there, Bill became the state’s champion in the long jump and the 100- and 200-meter events and was recruited by the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).
In the fall of 1929, Bill started college. A popular student and natural leader, Bill soon became a campus favorite, awarded the “Golden Spoon” for being the most outstanding, all-around student at Penn. He was a hard worker on the track, responding well to the direction of Penn’s track coach, 1904 Olympian Lawson Robertson. Bill’s favorite events were the 440, the 880, and the long jump, but it wasn’t until 1932 that he made his mark.
William Arthur Carr of Pine Bluff, winner of two gold medals at the Tenth Olympiad in Los Angeles; 1932
At the Intercollegiate Championships (the forerunner of the NCAA championships) of that year, Bill caused an enormous upset by beating world record holder Ben Eastman in the 440-yard dash. Bill repeated this feat some weeks later at the Olympic Trials. Then, on August 4, 1932, the world’s best 400-meter sprinters assembled at the newly constructed Los Angeles Coliseum for the Tenth World Olympiad for what The New York Times pegged as the “400-meter race of the century.” Bill won that race in a blistering world record time of 46.2 seconds. Several days later, he earned his second gold medal by running the anchor leg on the 1,600-meter relay team, helping the U.S. team to set a new Olympic record of 3:08.2.
A few days later, an Illinois newspaper wrote of his achievements: “To the world at large, he’s just another track star, but to a lot of people here who have followed him since his rather insignificant debut as a member of the Pine Bluff High School track team seven years ago, his success has yet to reach its peak.”
After the Olympics, Bill returned to a special awards ceremony in Pine Bluff, where he received a trophy for his Olympic feats. On March 17th of that year, his athletic career was cut short when he was involved in a car accident. He broke both his ankles and his pelvis, and never competed again.
Like so many other amateurs of his era, rather than using the Olympic Games as a catalyst for further triumph, he decided to pursue interests away from the sporting arena. Bill joined the U.S. Navy in World War II and served as a naval officer in the Pacific. After the war, Bill and his wife moved to Japan, where he worked for several American insurance companies.
Bill continued to be recognized for his achievements. His Olympic record in the 440-yard-dash stood for an astounding 16 years until 1948, when it was tied. In 1954, Bill was named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Time Olympic Team, and in 1964, he was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Bill Carr died in January 1966 in Japan and was buried in Pine Bluff’s Graceland Cemetery. His death didn’t stop the accolades. In 2008, he was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Today, statues at Mercersburg Preparatory School and the University of Pennsylvania track stadium honor his athletic and academic career.
Not bad for a little guy from Pine Bluff.
Sources: Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Wikipedia, USATF, Olympic.org
Image Credit: Courtesy of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System