ALAMEDA -- Once considered the world's fastest human, former sprinter Jim Hines enjoyed a career that took place during what many consider a golden age of U.S. track and field events. A 1964 McClymonds High School graduate, Hines went on to set records, win two gold medals at the 1968 Olympics and eventually earn a place in the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Hines, an El Cerrito resident who recently received another accolade as one of 12 inductees into the new Oakland Athletic League Hall of Fame, remains one of the most respected figures in his sport to this day. So when he talks about track and field, people tend to listen.
And lately, Hines has had plenty to say -- especially about the U.S. men's team at last summer's London Olympics.
"This past Olympics was one of the worst in the history of U.S. Olympic track and field," said Hines, the first man to break the 10-second barrier in the 100-meter run. "America used to be given the 100 meters, but now it's all Jamaica (led by sprint superstar Usain Bolt). The USA doesn't have a possible chance to win a gold medal, but you've got to give Jamaica credit."
Hines, now 66 and a coach for such organizations as the new Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track Club, hopes to level the playing field. His vision: to get government support for U.S. Olympic athletes. And using his fame for the greater good, Hines plans to take his message all the way to the top.
"I'm going to get to the White House and tell President Obama about this," Hines said. "I'm taking something else to him, too: I hope to get an Olympic bill passed -- the Olympian Equalization Act -- that says that an Olympian should be entitled to some things from this country. Hopefully, Congress passes it."
Talk about high hurdles.
Even today, in an era when Olympic athletes can be compensated for their efforts, many receive little to no compensation for all the hard work and hours put into training. But U.S. athletes hoping to receive government support face an uphill battle.
At present, the U.S. political landscape features those screaming for reduced deficits and others who seek improved funding for quality-of-life items such as education. Elsewhere, some might condemn what they see as government intrusion into private entities (sports organizations) that they regard already as too political. Finally, some might wonder if the American public cares enough about this issue at all.
Hines remains resolute in light of all this.
"Let (those who disagree) come to me with their remarks," he said. "This is just what I think is long overdue."
To be sure, some Olympic athletes -- regardless of the countries they represent -- have no need for government backing. This is especially true for NBA players and rising soccer stars who enjoy lucrative professional contracts.
Notable individual athletes such as Bolt and U.S. swimming star Michael Phelps also earn substantial incomes through endorsements and other sources. But most other Olympic athletes aren't as fortunate. Though some defray costs through corporate and individual donations, many still have to work at least part-time to make ends meet.
"You want your athletes ready to win gold medals," Hines said. "Without financial help, other countries will dominate (the Olympics) for the next 16 years."
Legally, the U.S. Olympic Committee is a private, nonprofit organization. But there is precedent in other parts of the world for governments supporting their athletes.
Soviet-bloc countries did just that during the Cold War, with Russia and China among the notables providing for their athletes today. Other countries have caught on too, Hines insists.
"Jamaica in the sprints, Kenya and Ethiopia in the distances, their governments are behind them," Hines said, citing just some examples. "I've been to 51 countries and know what they do for their Olympians and former Olympians."
Some might argue that the United States simply is not ready to publicly support any of its athletes. Hines says the country is long-overdue to help them. "It's something that should have been done here a long time ago," Hines said.
Whether Hines' idea will fly in present-day Washington, D.C., is anybody's guess. At the very least, it provides food for thought to those who strive for an even playing field and greatly enjoy the Olympics and other major world sporting events.