Photograph of Lloyd Barrington LaBeach (1922-1999) winner of two bronze Olympic medals at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London, England.
On August 18, 2008, Irving Jahir Saladino Aranda made history by winning the first Olympic gold medal for Panama after jumping 8.34 meters in Beijing, China. Later on during the day, Panama went wild. It was the first time this small Central American country had received a gold medal.
Most Panamanian citizens have forgotten that Irving J. Saladino is not the only winner of an Olympic medal for Panama. In 1948, Lloyd Barrington LaBeach won two bronze Olympic medals at the Summer Olympic Games held in London England, the first Olympic medals for Panama. He finished third in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. LaBeach timed 10.4 seconds on the 100 meter dash and 21.2 seconds en the 200 meter dash. History almost forgot that in 1948, LaBeach was the third fastest man in the world.
Who is this distinguished track and field athlete who is almost a stranger in his own country? Let’s see. Lloyd Barrington LaBeach was born in Panama City, Panama on June 28, 1922. His parents, Samuel and Julia LaBeach, were Jamaican immigrants who came to Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal.
After the Panama Canal was completed, his father decided to stay in Panama where he organized a small taxicab business. The taxi business was so successful, that the LaBeach family decided to return to Jamaica to start a similar business. It was in Jamaica where young Lloyd demonstrated his athletic skills while attending the Kingston Gaindstead Tutorial College, where he established several personal track and field records.
In 1946 he received a scholarship from the University of Wisconsin, but he didn’t liked the cold weather, so he switched to the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), where he was coached by Elvin C. (Ducky) Drake during his preparations for the London’s Summer Olympic Games. He graduated in 1948.
“In 1948, he set the world record in the 200 meters dash on a cinder track in Compton, California. After the race, he was described in Time Magazine as “Panama’s one-man Olympic hope.” Just a few weeks before, La Beach had been involved in a world record setting 100-yard dash in which he barely lost at the finish line tape to Melvin Patton. These 1948 performances made him one of the expected medal contenders against Melvin Patton and Barney Ewell in the London’s Olympics.” [Wikipedia Encyclopedia]
In May 1948, Lloyd LaBeach traveled to London, England to participate in the Summer Olympic Games of that year. He was accompanied by his UCLA coach, Elvin (Ducky) Drake. In a spectacular manner he won bronze medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprint. What was really spectacular, is that he tied second place with Norwood (Barney) Ewell from the U.S. in the 100 meter sprint, both finishing the race in 10.4 seconds. After tossing a coin, Lloyd lost and was awarded the bronze instead of the silver medal.
Photograph of Lloyd LaBeach (left) of Panama won the bronze, Norwood H. (Barney) Ewell (right) won the silver, and Harrison Dillard (center) won the gold at the 100 meter dash of the 1948 London Summer Olympic Games. (Credit: Encylopaedia Britannica, Inc.)
He was received in Panama like a hero. Huge parades and caravans took place to celebrate his Olympic medals. The Panama Government awarded him the most prestigious medal the country has to honor its heroes; the Order of Vazco Nuñez de Balboa.
Lloyd LaBeach retired from athletics in 1957. Together with his wife and children, he relocated to Lagos, Nigeria in Africa where he established an import-export agriculture product business. He died on February 17, 1999 in a New York City hospital. His remains are currently kept at the Santuario Nacional Church in Panama City, Panama.
This post is to give credit where credit is due; to one of the most outstanding athletes Panama has ever had. Lloyd Barrington LaBeach has earned his place in History. Let us not forget our heroes.
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