Bill Hensley, a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and long-time sportswriter, sent the following article to The Chronicle with permission to run it in its entirety. It concerns Dave Sime, a Duke grad considered in his prime to be one of the fastest humans on the planet. This is your history lesson for the day. — Andy Moore
The lanky shopper moved leisurely through the supermarket aisles, stopping often and taking his time reading labels and making decisions. He was cautious and deliberate, a rare experience for a man who had never been associated with slowness.
In the mid 1950’s, he was known as “the world’s fastest human,” and Sports Illustrated called him “Superman in spikes.”
That was Dave Sime, a tall, shy, red-headed Duke University track star from New Jersey who sat the athletic world on fire with his blazing speed. During his colorful and illustrious career, the headline-making runner set seven world records and won a silver medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
An injury in 1956 kept him out of that year’s Olympic games and a sure gold medal or two, since he was the odds on favorite in several events.
Ironically, Sime (pronounced Sim) never intended to be a track star. His superb speed was discovered almost accidentally at Duke.
Sime was a high school great in Fair Lawn, NJ, where he starred in football, basketball and basketball. It was obvious he had speed in all three sports but no one—including himself—recognized that he was far above the average.
During his senior year, he led his football team to the New Jersey state championship, and he won All-State honors as a hard- to -catch single-win tailback, leading the team in rushing and scoring. He was also the team’s punter and placekicker.
Sime was equally good in baseball and won All-State honors, hitting .511, .479 and .450 in three years. In a New York Polo Grounds game against a professional team from Cuba, he hit two home runs. He later was offered a bonus to sign with the New York Giants but turned it down.
He quickly became one of the nation’s top recruits in two sports and received 23 college scholarship offers in football. Among his pursuers were Notre Dame, Auburn, Princeton and Army. He also had numerous baseball offers.
During a visit to West Point, where he was recruited by Vince Lombardi, a football coach asked him to run some sprints. His 60-yard time stunned onlookers, and he later learned that he had tied the school’s record for such a dash. “Forget football,” the coach told him, “we want you on the track team. You’ll be world famous.”
On that same visit, Sime learned after a physical exam that he was color blind. That discovery shot down his desire to attend West Point and later become a pilot, so he looked elsewhere for a college, knowing that most of the schools that were after him had already used their scholarship quota by then.
That’s when his father, Charles, a house painter and former professional baseball player, remembered having met Clarence (Ace) Parker, the former Duke All-America football and baseball star who was coaching both sports for the Blue Devils. A telephone call to Parker resulted in an invitation to “come on down and we will work out something for you.”
Duke granted the fleet-footed power hitter a baseball scholarship in 1954. He played as a freshman and junior and led the Atlantic Coast Conference in hitting with a .376 average in 1957. A centerfielder, he could run down anything hit near him, and his speed on the bases enabled him to steal bases easily and turn hits into extra bases.
In 1959, he also played on the football team as a “lonesome end,” a position popular at the time. A wide receiver, it took at least two defenders to cover him, thereby giving the offense an advantage. He was a constant threat and caught several touchdown passes.
After he graduated from Duke in 1958, he was drafted by the Detroit Lions but he never pursued a professional football or baseball career.
Sime’s introduction to track was accidental at best. As a freshman he worked out with the track team to stay in shape for baseball. He immediately caught the eyes of coaches Bob Chambers and Al Buehler. “I never saw anything like him,” Buehler said. “He could really move. We timed him in the 100-yard dash on a field that wasn’t groomed, and he ran the distance in 9.8 seconds. We knew he could do better after some training, and we were ecstatic. He had enormous talent and intelligence and was a hard worker.”
From that point on, Sime became one of the nation’s most celebrated stars. He first achieved national recognition at the Drake Relays in 1956 when he beat Abilene Christian’s Bobby Morrow in the 100, running it in 9.4 seconds which was only 1/10th of a second off the world record on a cold, muddy track. At the time, Morrow was considered the nation’s top sprinter.
Later, Sime put on one of track’s greatest shows in a dual meet against arch rival North Carolina. He ran the 220-yard low hurdles in 22.2, a world record; the 100-yard dash in 9.4, and the 220-yard dash in 20.3, both a fraction of a second off the record. In addition, he finished second in the broad jump, third in the discus throw, and second in the high jump in a memorable exhibition.
Because of a serious groin injury from a horseback riding incident, the red-haired flash was unable to perform to his potential in the 1956 NCAA and AAU events and at the Olympic trials. It took him six months to recover, and he missed that year’s Olympic games, much to the disappointment of his many fans.
After graduating from Duke, Sime was offered a scholarship to attend the university’s medical school, and he accepted, looking forward to a career as a physician. He still competed informally and trained diligently for the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
In the game’s 100-meter run, Sime and Germany’s Armin Hary squared off as the clear favorites, and the vast crowd was not disappointed as the duo raced to a photo finish. After an agonizing fifteen minute review, first place—and the gold medal—was given to Hary in a controversial decision.
Sime also participated in the 400-meter relay as the anchorman, and the United States team won with Sime coming from behind on the last leg for the victory. But officials detected that a US baton pass was not made inside the zone, and the team was disqualified.
Those disappointments ended Sime’s athletic career, and from that point on he put all his time and effort into medical school. He graduated with honors in 1962, did an internship at Duke, and then headed to Miami as Dr. David W. Sime, ophthalmologist.
Among his college honors were the ACC’s Athlete of the Year in 1956, and first team All-Conference in baseball. Later he was named Duke’s most outstanding athlete of the 20th century. He is in sports Halls of Fame at Duke, and the states of North Carolina, New Jersey and Florida, as well as the US Track and Field Association.
His 20.3 second in the 220-yard dash is still an ACC record.
Sime practiced medicine for 40 years in Miami and became one of the nation’s recognized specialists in eye surgery and intraocular lens implants. He was head of eye surgery at Mercy Hospital and served as the eye surgeon for the Miami Dolphins.
When he retired seven years ago, he bought a summer home at the Elk River Club in Banner Elk, NC, at the suggestion of his long time friend Bob Griese, the former Dolphin quarterback.
“My wife and I loved being in the mountains,” he said enthusiastically, “and it was great to be back in North Carolina.” The Sime’s recently put their mountain home on the market so they can be free for extensive summer travel.
Now 75, Sime still carries 190 pounds on his erect, muscular 6-foot-3 frame, the same weight he had in his prime. But the trademark red hair is now snow white, adding an aura of distinction to his stately stature.
His game now is golf, and he plays the challenging Elk River course with a ten handicap. A long hitter, his all-time low is an even par 72 “but I have done that only once.”
An extraordinary athlete, Sime is a top tennis player, an expert skier, and an award-winning ice skater. He once had a pilot’s license but doesn’t fly anymore.
Does he ever jog?
“No. Jogging was never my thing,” he replied. “Besides, I enjoy other sports activities.”
Sime has been married to his second wife, Ileana, a native of Brazil, for the past 15 years. He has three children from a previous marriage, a son and two daughters, all of whom were college athletes.
His biggest sports thrill, he revealed, came when he was 13 and won the prestigious Silver Skates competition in Madison Square Garden. He received the award from TV host Ed Sullivan.
His biggest disappointment was not being able to participate in the 1956 Olympics when he was in his prime. “I was crushed because I thought I could win a gold medal or two. I came close in 1960 but that doesn’t count.”
Sime regards his education at Duke as the greatest gift of his life. “I met so many people there who helped and guided me in numerous ways. It was a wonderful experience.”
Does his speed ever come in handy these days? “Only on the golf course,” he replied. “I play kinda fast.”