In 1936, with the world on the brink of war, Olympic games were held in Berlin, where Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler was to stage a celebration of his rise to power and a confirmation of the Nazi ideal of Aryan racial supremacy, an ideal that was shattered by African-American athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the track and field events. Among Owens’ teammates that year was another gold medalist, a native of Calhoun County, Mississippi, who rose to a commanding position in track competitions at Louisiana State University, dominating the 400 meter hurdles around the world throughout the 1930s and offering equal competition in the 400 meter flat race.
Glenn “Slats” Hardin, was born July 1, 1910 near Derma, Mississippi, a small town in the southern half of Calhoun County, Mississippi. The family moved to Greenwood when Glenn was in the 2nd grade, and there Hardin became one of the most outstanding athletes of his generation, earning his nickname “Slats” because of his long legs. He began competing in state track and field competitions during his junior year. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported in May, 1930 that “the tall blond boy ran the 220-yard hurdles in 25 flat. The old record was 25.6. He stepped the quarter-mile in 50 and the half-mile in 1:59, slipping 5 seconds off the latter record.” According to observer Fletcher Oaks, “He was a tall, lanky, long-legged boy. There was a guy I went to school with in south Mississippi, Jack Burnett. Jack had won the 100-yard and the 220. Hardin had won the hurdles and the half-mile. They both competed in the quarter on the second day, and while Jack ran a good race, he was no match for Glenn. Burnett had to run hard, but Hardin was just loping out there, with the easiest–looking stride, just like a deer running.”
Hardin, to the chagrin of athletics at both Ole Miss and MSU, attended Louisiana State University, which dominated the old Southern Conference in track during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. While at LSU, he won four NCAA individual titles, the 440 in 1933 and 1934 and the 22-yards low hurdles in the same two years. Hardin was a member of the LSU Tigers outdoor track and field team that won the school’s first ever NCAA Championship in 1933. In 1935, his senior year, he finished second in the hurdles at the NCAA championships to an Ohio State runner with whom he would compete in Berlin. That runner was Jesse Owens. Hardin qualified for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where he finished second in the 400 m. hurdles in 52.0 but was given credit for a world record when the winner, Bob Tisdall from Ireland, knocked down a hurdle, an error that in those days disqualified a performance for world record consideration. Hardin lowered the record to 51.8 in the 1934 AAU championships and then bettered it to 50.6 during a meet in Stockholm later that year. That record would stand for the next nineteen years.
Hardin along with Owens qualified for the Olympic team at the trials in Randall’s Island, N.Y. in 1936. Owens was certainly a good bet to win his three individual events—the 100, 200 and long jump—in Berlin, and Hardin was close to a sure thing for a gold medal in the 400 hurdles where in the final of six runners, Hardin drew the outside lane. U.S. Teammate Joe Patterson, running from the inside, went out so fast that he was actually ahead of Hardin at the half-way point despite the difference in the staggered start, but in the third 100 meters, Hardin surged past Patterson and entered the final straight one meter ahead of John Loaring of Canada. He held the lead to win the gold at 52.4.
Hardin retired from athletics after a failed effort to organize a professional track circuit, married in 1937 and settled in Baton Rouge, never finishing his degree at LSU. He worked for the Ethel Corporation and his wife taught high school history. In the late 1960s he began to travel for the state overseeing voting machines. His second oldest son, Billy, was also an NCAA champion hurdler for LSU in the 1960s and made the Olympic team in 1964 for his dad’s event, the 400 m. hurdles. Glenn Hardin died in Baton Rouge, 1975.