Houston McTear: The Fastest Man In The World

About Houston McTear:

“9 Seconds” is the true story of Houston McTear, a one-in-a- billion athlete who rose from crushing poverty to worldwide fame… then descended into homelessness and drug addiction before rising again to find redemption.

 Houston McTear (born February 12, 1957), is a former American sprinter, who emerged from desperate poverty in the Florida Panhandle to become an international track star in the mid-1970s.
Houston grew up in rural Florida, in a dilapidated shack across the train tracks from a sawmill. He spent his youth dodging raindrops from his leaky ceiling and racing the freight trains that charged past his home. It was there that Houston developed his gift: to run faster than any human who has ever lived.

In 1975, as a high school junior, he stunned the sports world when he tied the world record in the 100 yard dash with a time of 9 seconds flat. His rise to stardom was similarly fast – magazine covers, jet-
setting around the world, hanging out with Muhammad Ali – all under the watchful eye of the charismatic promoter Harold Smith.

Then it all fell apart. Harold Smith was arrested for a massive bank embezzlement scheme; it turns out he was one of the most notorious con men of the 20th century. Houston was left with no friends, no money, and nowhere to run. He turned to drugs, and within two years, he was homeless on the beach in Santa Monica.

After nearly a decade of sleeping on the sand, he reconnected with an old track friend, Swedish star Linda Haglund . With her help, Houston cleaned up and began an amazing comeback.
It culminated in 1991, when, at age 34, he stunned the sports world for a second time by defeating track’s premier sprinters at the European World Championships.

McTear rated in the top 10 in the 100 meters for the United States from 1975–1980, but he was stronger at shorter distances, including 60 meters. His 1978 world record in the 60 meters (6.54 s) stood up until it was broken by Ben Johnson in 1986. However, his meteoric rise was effectively ended by the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics.



1. Drug Addiction:

Houston McTear, once the world's fastest human, was down and out in Santa Monica, where he lived in a park overlooking the Pacific Ocean. McTear had hit rock bottom because of his addiction to cocaine.

Penniless, McTear slept on the tennis courts at the Pritikin Longevity Center at the beach. He had it better, however, than most of his buddies, who lived in cactus condos at the park--stands of cactus plants littered with empty wine bottles.

"I was one of the homeless for 3 years," McTear said. "I had my sleeping bag, and I slept on the beach or wherever I could find a place. Actually, I think (the homeless) have got it really easy. There's a lot of help out there, but most of them don't take advantage of it."

His career as a sprinter began to decline after the breakup of the Muhammad Ali Track Club, which had supported him. Harold Smith, who was also known as Ross Fields and was the head of the club, was convicted of embezzling $21 million from Wells Fargo Bank in Beverly Hills and although McTear wasn't implicated in the scam, he said he turned to drugs as an escape. But his drug habit quickly ate up his life savings.

Houston would come by the office occasionally with a hard-luck story, asking for money, and we gave him $100 once or twice," said Al Franken, veteran track promoter. "He's a nice young man."

Although he lived a bleak existence, McTear said he never went hungry. He ate at the Clare Foundation, a Santa Monica mission for the homeless.

"Houston went through tough times, but he's a tough man," said John Smith, the former Olympic sprinter who used to coach McTear. "Houston's a very independent man. Until he gets to a point where he can't solve his problems by himself, he won't ask for help."

McTear, as did the bum in the film "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," found a good Samaritan, who rescued him.

Arlene Francis, whose son, Russ, plays tight end for the New England Patriots, took McTear into her home in Southwest Los Angeles 2 months ago.

"She was a gift from God," McTear said of Francis. "She was there most when I needed a friend."

Their friendship has blossomed into love.

2. Love and Personal Life!

Francis, who is divorced, said she plans to marry McTear. A grandmother, Francis is 53 and has six children, including four sons older than McTear, 31. McTear has two young children from a previous marriage.

"In some ways, Hou is a lot older than I am," Francis said. "He's been through a lot more than I have. I'm sure if I were walking down the street, Houston wouldn't have looked twice at me.

"When we first met, we didn't have anything, necessarily, in common. But as we got to know each other we found out what we were all about. We found a common ground.

"When Hou introduces me as his baby to his friends, I tell him he doesn't have to. This is no one-night stand. It's a for-real thing. And it came about so gradually. It's amazing how it happened. It's weird."

When Francis met McTear 3 years ago, she was living in a mobile home at the beach because she was saving money to buy a house. She was starting over after a divorce from her husband, Ed, a wealthy pro wrestling promoter and cattle rancher.

"I was sitting with a friend (at the park), talking about my kids, when Houston interrupted and said that he had kids, too," said Francis, recalling their first meeting. "I thought it was awfully presumptuous of him."

McTear, however, intrigued her.

"He had the profile of an Egyptian Pharaoh," Francis said of McTear. "I didn't know much about him because Hou is an extremely proud man and he never talked about his past or his problems."

Francis saw in McTear something more than just another bum, but she didn't know about his extraordinary track career until an autograph seeker discovered him in the park.

"He told me his whole life story and I told him mine," Francis said. "He's a super human being. What happened to him should never have happened to him.

"He's got the heart of a child and the intellect of a giant. People misunderstand his intellect. This man has a mind like a steel trap. Because of his childlike innocence, people don't expect this intelligence to follow. I think the reason Houston hurt so very badly was because he knows exactly what's going on and people think he doesn't.

"He told me the whole insidious story of how he got into cocaine. At first it was 1 day a week, and then it became 2 days a week and then he was doing it every day. That's all he did."

Francis' mobile home became a sanctuary for McTear.

A psychiatric nurse, Francis sized up McTear's motives and proceeded cautiously.

"I didn't get to be 53 by being dumb," she said. "When I moved into my house last year I just let him stay at the park. I'm not going to say to the world, 'Look, we're together,' and have him come and go as he pleases. I guess I'm old-fashioned in a lot of ways."

The situation changed, though, when her youngest son, Ed, 25, moved in with her.

Overcame drug addiction and a nine-year year layoff to win the European Championships at age 34.

3. Charges:

Jan 17, 1989

Sprinter Houston McTear, who pleaded guilty to one count of selling cocaine, will be sentenced in Santa Monica Superior Court on Jan. 31.

McTear was arrested by Santa Monica police for allegedly selling cocaine in a park last fall.

Although McTear maintains his innocence, he said he entered a guilty plea to avoid a jail sentence.

"They're trying to make an example out of me," McTear said. "I had no other choice. Either I plead guilty and get probation, or go to jail for 3 years."

Pending the outcome of his legal problems, McTear still plans to make a comeback on the indoor track circuit.

April 22, 1989

Sprinter Houston McTear failed to appear in Santa Monica Superior Court for sentencing in a cocaine-sales case, prompting Judge James Albracht to issue an arrest warrant.

McTear previously had pleaded guilty to the charge and had been free on bail pending sentencing. He had been arrested for allegedly selling cocaine in a Santa Monica park


1. McTear won state titles in the 100 and 220 yards four times, the only Florida high school athlete ever to do so.

2. He recorded an 9.0 mark in the 100-yard dash as a high schooler at the Florida AA High State Meet in the preliminary heats, in Winter Park, Florida, but the world record time was not recognized because it was hand-timed.
3. He was the 1975 High School Athlete of the Year, as selected by Track and Field News.
4. At the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, McTear ran a 10.16 sec over 100 metres, at the time the fastest ever run under any condition by a Florida high school athlete. It is still No. 3 on the all-time list, only surpassed by Jeffery Demps and Marvin Bracy.
5. McTear qualified for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal in the 100 meters, but an achilles tendon injury suffered in the Olympic Trials forced him to withdraw from the Olympic field. He was replaced by Johnny "Lam" Jones, who finished sixth. The American 4 x 100 meter relay team won the gold medal, led by McTear's rival Harvey Glance.
6. McTear appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1978, and qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, but the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics prevented his participation. From there he fell into drug use and was homeless for three years during the 1980s.
7. He attempted a comeback in the early 1990s and won the 60 meters at the Swedish Indoor Championships in 1990 with a time of 6.68s.

McTear was ranked among the best in the world and the US in his event from 1975 to 1980, according to Track and Field News.

Year Event World rank US rank
1975         100 meters 10th 3rd
1976         100 meters     6th
1977         100 meters 2nd 1st
1978         100 meters     6th
1979         100 meters 4th 3rd
1980         100 meters     9th

Interesting Facts:
1. Houston McTear was the World's Fastest Human. He is widely considered the fastest sprinter to ever live.
2. He came from the most meager circumstances imaginable: a shack at the end of a dirt road, in the rural backwoods of Florida, where his entire family, including 8 siblings, slept in the same room under a leaking roof, and a bowl of dry cereal was considered a meal.
3. As an untrained high school junior, McTear tied the world record in the 100-yard dash (9.0 seconds).
4. He was on the verge of global stardom-twice- but lost everything due to bad luck,bad choices, and a disastrous relationship with a world-class con man.
5. McTear lived homeless on Santa Monica Beach for the better part of the eighties. With the help of a female Swedish sprinting champion, 31-year-old McTear rehabilitated himself and embarked upon a comeback even more surprising than his initial success fourteen years earlier.
6. Houston McTear is the embodiment of human courage, and the details listed on this site represent only a fraction of his amazing story.
7. No athlete in American history has ever been as exalted, then as humbled, then as exalted again, as Houston McTear.
8. No other athlete has emerged from the horrors of hunger, poverty, and lack of shelter to become a world-class athlete... twice in one life.
9. No athlete has ever outrun both a speeding freight train and a thoroughbred horse before age nineteen.
10. The real story of Houston McTear is even more amazing than the myths that surround him, and his whole story will soon be told.
11. He has had problems with lack of coaching, money, swindlers, drugs and just being able to cope. He has failed at several comeback attempts. Many who figured him for a world-class star have forgotten, or simply given up on him.
12. McTear now lives in the United States and is married to the Swedish sprinter Linda Haglund.

The True Story of Fame:

In 1984, Sprinter Houston McTear was riding the bus to practice at UCLA from his apartment in West Los Angeles the other day when a man sat down next to him.

"Say, didn't you used to be the world's fastest human?" the man asked.

The man had a good memory. Many people have long since forgotten about Houston McTear, the one-time schoolboy sprint flash from Florida. Still, there is always someone who remembers.

"It happens all the time," McTear said. "People still remember Mac. I was the world's fastest human. I did it once and I can do it again."



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  1. My love and my daughter's father. Tomorrow he would've turn 61 yo. We miss him alot and love him so much. Our pappis❤Houston


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