On this day in 1912, the birth of the greatest athlete you might never have heard of: Matthew Mackenzie Robinson, known as Mack Robinson.

You have probably heard of his brother, baseball and civil rights legend Jackie Robinson, but there’s a reason their hometown of Pasadena, California installed bronze busts of both brothers outside City Hall: each of them was as great off the field as on.

Mack set multiple college track and field records competing for Pasadena Junior College, and qualified for the US Olympic team in 1936. That was the Games in which Jesse Owens won gold in Berlin, under the shadow of the Nazis.

In the 200 meter dash, the silver medalist, only four-tenths of a second behind Owens, was Mack Robinson. Two African-Americans leading the entire field.

Robinson would go on to set more track records while finishing his degree at the University of Oregon.

Unfortunately, being an Olympic medalist and a college graduate didn’t lead to many opportunities.

In Pasadena, the only job he could find was as a city street sweeper.

Mack Robinson pushed ahead anyway, working in the community as a youth advocate in schools and a voice against street crime.

Finally, in 1984, when the Olympics came to Los Angeles, one of the US medalists chosen to bring the Olympic flag into the Memorial Coliseum was Mack Robinson, recognized not as the brother of a great athlete and citizen… but as a great in his own right.

The best runners aren’t just fast; they make it look good too, right?

Those big strides, upright posture, arms back and forth in the air… actually, a new study out of Harvard tested whether there was any advantage for a runner who had bent arms as opposed to just keeping them to your sides.

And the answer?

No advantage – at least not in terms of running.

Swinging your arms definitely looks less awkward than not.

Two Lives After Losing to Jesse Owens (New York Times)

Matthew MacKenzie “Mack” Robinson (1912-2000) (BlackPast.org)

Running with your arms bent does not make you go any faster than with straight arms, Harvard study finds (Yahoo! News)

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Photo by Little Koshka via Flickr/Creative Commons