The Richmond History Podcast

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bojangles Beats'em Backwards

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, a native of Richmond's Jackson Ward, is known for tap dancing in movies with the likes of Shirley Temple, but in his time he was know for something else, running backwards.  In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized him for the fastest backwards 100 yards, finishing the distance in 13.5 seconds.1 He was also measured at 8.5 seconds for a backwards 75 yard run.1

Babe Ruth, 1919, Library of Congress
One time Robinson raced Babe Ruth around the bases at Yankee Stadium and won, even though Ruth was running forward and Bill was running backwards.1

Jessie Owens
Robinson didn't win every foot race. In 1935, in order to help raise money for a young athlete named Jessie Owens, Robinson challenged him to a race.  Since Owens was known as the "Buckeye Bullet" at Ohio State,2 he would run 75 yards forward while Robinson would run 50 yards in reverse.  Owens beat Bojangles by 4 yards.  I am sure Robinson was not embarrassed by the defeat.  He was 57 years old and the next year at the Berlin Olympics, the 22 year old Owens would win 4 gold medals in sprinting and earn the title the fastest man alive.3

Bojangles held that 100 yard backwards record until April 10, 1997 when Paul Wilson of New Zealand ran it in 13.3 seconds at the Hastings Highland Games in Hastings, New Zealand.3

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