2007 TRACK & FIELD INDUCTEE
Fresno can claim Mike Agostini as one of its own after the world-class sprinter flew into town on a whim. Agostini, who once owned the title of “The Fastest Man in the World,” competed in the Melbourne Olympics and was ranked among the top ten sprinters in the world by Track & Field News for seven straight years from 1953-1959. Currently, Agostini lives in Australia where he has authored ten books after having his own radio and television shows in Sydney during the 1960s. He founded the Sydney Marathon and is Executive Director of the Sydney-to-Melbourne Ultra-Marathon.
Soccer was the family game of choice in Trinidad. His father was captain of the soccer team for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1930s and all of his sons dominated the sport in high school, but they also competed against each other in foot races and set school speed records. Mike chose to pursue track and field. Agostini was Trinidad and Tobago’s Ages 14-16 National Champion. He was top-ranked in the Ages 16-19 group while only fifteen and won his first national title at age seventeen. He traveled to Kingston, Jamaica in 1952 to run against U.S. and Jamaican Olympians Harrison Dillard, Andy Stanfield, and Herb McKenley. He beat Stanfield and also Jim Gathers to become a world-famous prodigy. The following year he equaled Jesse Owens’ world Under-19 record of 9.4 seconds for 100 yards in Kingston. He was called by a British track and field magazine, “the world’s fastest schoolboy.”
Agostini was heavily recruited and chose Villanova University with veteran coach Jumbo Elliott. In his first indoor meet at the Boston Gardens, he defeated Olympic 100-meter champion, Lindy Remigino, and Andy Stanfield in the 200-meter with spikes borrowed from Harrison Dillard. But Fresno was soon to be his home. “After one season, I had it up to my gut with the cold weather and heavy emphasis on Roman Catholicism, so I decided to transfer,” Agostini said. “I met Fresno coach Flint Hanner at a meet and he urged me to come to Fresno.” Hanner received a call at his home at five a.m. one morning. It was Agostini, who had arrived unannounced at the Fresno airport. “I told Coach Hanner, ‘I’m here.’ So he came, picked me up and took me to his house. The next morning, I enrolled in school and he took me to a dormitory. It was the beginning of a productive three years.”
Agostini said some of the best years of his life were those spent at Fresno State where he enrolled in 1954 and competed for three seasons. During his sophomore year, Agostini raced in the third Pan American Games in Mexico City, winning a silver in the 100 meters and a bronze in the 200 meters. He also won the first of three straight California Collegiate Athletic Association 100- and 220-yard races for the Bulldogs. Agostini also ran on the Fresno sprint relay teams.
In 1956 at the opening of the new track at Bakersfield College, he ran a world record 20.1 seconds in the 220-yard race. The mark was never recognized because there were not enough AAU officials timing the race. Fresno State Assistant Coach Dutch Warmerdam had to fill in. Next, he competed against Dave Sime of Duke University in a special meet in Sanger. Sime set a world record of 20 seconds flat for 200 yeards and Agostini was second at 20.3.
During the CCAA championships in Long Beach, he equaled the world 100-yard record of 9.3 seconds, but once again, it was not recognized due to the same lack of AAU timers. Several timers had gone to the Los Angeles Coliseum to see the great Australian miler John Landy run. Agostini finished third in the NCAA championships and earned All-American honors. He represented Trinidad in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics placing sixth in the 100 meters and fourth in the 200.
In 1957, he badly injured his right knee while trying to do the triple jump, but he won his third straight CCAA sprints title to conclude his senior year. He then went to Cardiff, Wales for the Commonwealth Games to compete for Canada (Trinidad was unable to finance a team) and captured the bronze medal in the 100. Always a free spirit, he left Fresno State two units short of graduation and traveled the world. He represented the West Indies Federation in the Chicago Pan-Am Games and won a silver in the 100 meters behind Ray Norton and a bronze in the 200. His motto? “Have spikes, will run.”