By Mike Burrows, The Denver Post
Alonzo Babers turned out to be good as gold. Olympic gold,
in fact. Times two.
More than 35 years after starring at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the Air Force
Academy graduate and new member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame remains
one of the most stunning stories in track and field history.
Babers was a two-time champion at the Olympics, striking gold with Team USA at
the L.A. Coliseum in the 400-meter dash (winning time of 44.27 seconds) and the 4 x 400 relay (2:57.91). To say he burst onto the scene of global fame would be a world-class understatement.
“He was a reject from football when I first met him,” former Air Force
track coach Ernie Cunliffe told The Denver Post years ago. “I didn’t know
who he was.”
Babers, now 58, was born in Montgomery, Alabama. He enrolled at
the Air Force Academy in 1979 after graduating from an American high
school in West Germany, where his father was stationed while serving in
the U.S. military.
Babers initially was a football player for the Falcons, but when he suffered a broken arm during a game against Wisconsin, he decided to give collegiate track a try. His runway to stardom in track turned out to be as long as the runways he eventually would use as a pilot for the U.S. Air Force and for United Airlines. He never won a conference championship
in track with the Falcons, but he was an NCAA All-American, and good enough to
believe that he could someday achieve something extraordinary outside the cockpit.
Consistent, rapid improvement enabled him to qualify for the 1983 world championships
in Helsinki, Finland, which put him on the road to the Olympics a year later. But
when he arrived in Los Angeles for the 1984 Games, he wasn’t expected to medal, let alone strike gold and do it twice.
Those expectations received a sudden boost when Babers won his quarterfinals race in L.A. in the 400 with a personal-best time of 44.75 seconds. Just two years earlier, his best time in the 400 was 45.9.
He had a lot on his plate outside of track, too. When he competed in the Olympics, he was an active-duty lieutenant in the Air Force awaiting pilot training and a 1983 graduate of the academy with a degree in aerospace engineering.
“I finished second (in the 400) in the Olympic trials (with a time of 44.86), and I came out of that with a confident feeling that I could get a medal in the Olympics,” Babers told the Denver Post. “I believed that I could do well against any of the runners in the world.”
Fueled with that confidence, he pulled off a jaw-dropping feat with his feet. He cruised to victory in the 400 at the Olympics, posting a sizzling, personal-best time of 44.27 in the
final. Three days later, he ran the third leg on America’s golden 4 x 400 relay team.
In a mammoth stadium, Alonzo Babers stunned the world on the biggest stage in
He’s been flying ever since
I believed that I could do well against any of the runners in the world.