At a track meet earlier this year, Houston Edward McTear, an 18-year-old Florida schoolboy who can lay fair claim to the title of world’s fastest human, overheard a challenger brag he would beat him. When the race got underway, McTear spurted ahead, then playfully dropped back to the side of the boaster, grinned, waved and then sprinted away to victory.
“I just run because I like to,” says the laconic McTear of his talent, “and I ain’t got nothing else to do.”
He does it superbly. This month, the International Amateur Athletic Federation officially accepted his world record time of nine seconds for the 100-yard dash. He ran the race in May but the watches were hand-held, not electronically operated, and the IAAF had to ponder the accuracy of the results. Only one other man has run a nine-second 100—Ivory Crockett, 27—and McTear has beaten him frequently in competition.
The awesome McTear (rhymes with cheer) is not exactly a blinkered specialist. He runs a respectable 220, long-jumps, and last year, as a high school halfback in Baker, Fla., averaged 14 yards a carry.
“When he was little, he just run and run in the heat part of the day,” remembers his mother, Margree, a large and smiling woman who makes do on the $100 a week her husband, Eddie, earns as a forklift operator. “I’d say, ‘You stay out of that hot sun, you gonna run yourself to death,’ and he’d say, ‘Ma’am it ain’t hot,’ and he’d keep on going. He could be here now and you could rest your eyes and turn around and he wouldn’t be there.”
McTear has been brought along by his high school coach, 32-year-old Will Willoughby. The two have traveled to track meets all around the U.S., the Caribbean, and this summer even Europe. Willoughby’s wife, Caroline, keeps scrapbooks for Houston and has helped the shy young man adjust to the new world his travels have shown him. “We don’t just come out and say what’s wrong with his table manners,” she says. “We make it indirect.”
McTear’s mother, Margree, recalls that Houston, the second of her eight children, was inspired by his older brother, George, who won a football scholarship to Jackson State. “Edward [Houston’s name at home] just tried to beat George in everything,” she says. “When George lifted weights, so did Edward. When George started playing football, Edward would say, ‘Brother, I’m going to beat you.’ ”
Together they trained on the sandy logging road that parallels the railroad tracks across from the McTear home. (“The more I worked out, the better I got,” says Houston.) At 14, wearing cut-off jeans and a pair of sneakers, he streaked the 100 in 9.8 seconds. Despite his choppy running style and unusually thick leg muscles (which can lead to cramps and strain) Houston has never been seriously hurt. But there are those who fear he may not last. “He runs so hard,” says one former sprinter, “that he could self-destruct before his peak.”
Currently, McTear is swamped by more than 100 college scholarship offers. The University of Florida sent a private plane for him, and Southern University and A & M College, according to Mrs. McTear, said it would pay Houston to go to school “and give us a home and give my husband a new job.”
Houston listens to everyone. “I just hate to turn anybody down,” he says. Still, what he’s really pointing for is the 1976 Olympics. “I want to go so bad, I don’t know what to do,” he says. “I’m going there, and take everything.”