Munich. 1972. Roddy Lee settles into the starting blocks in the second heat of the 110-meter hurdles wearing the uniform of the Republic of China, otherwise known as Taiwan.
Lee is one of four members of the Taiwanese track and field team, along with Su Wen-Ho, Chen Chin-Long and Chen Ming-Chi. He is also from El Cerrito.
The gun cracks, sending a sound wave through the giant Olympic Stadium. American Tom Hill wins the heat easily in 13.62 seconds. Lee is eighth and last with a 14.98 time.
Hill will go on to a bronze medal in the event. Lee will run in the 400 hurdles and the 400 relay, then return home to El Cerrito to become a teacher and a coach.
Lee certainly appreciates the fact that he got to participate in the Olympics. But it's fair to say that as a 22-year-old, he didn't necessarily realize what an amazing opportunity it was. The Olympics was a big event in 1972, but not the mega-event it has become.
"It was fun, it was interesting, it is an experience. It was basically taking in all the ceremony, all the pomp and circumstances going in, taking pictures," Lee said of the opening ceremonies.
"It's not as moving as it is now, but I definitely remember all that went on," he said. "It's hard to see all of that stuff when you're in the middle of the field. You get a better shot of it when you watch on TV."
The closing ceremonies also weren't quite as big then either. Lee carried the Taiwanese flag because the
Lee grew up in Kensington, attending Kensington Hilltop Elementary, Portola Junior High and El Cerrito High School.
He was always one of the fastest kids in school and his brother Roger ran track for the Gauchos, so it seemed natural for him to go out for the team when he got to El Cerrito. His friend Dave Masters was always beating Lee in the sprints, so he decided to try hurdles.
"(There was) no age group stuff like they have now," Lee said. "It might have been a whole different story if they had age group stuff. I probably wouldn't have run hurdles, probably would have run distance stuff."
Legendary El Cerrito coach Hale Roach was still at the school and he molded Lee into a good enough hurdler that when Lee moved on to UC Berkeley, he made the track team there.
Roach also helped Lee prepare for his future career, encouraging him to become a coach and teacher.
"He was the biggest influence on my life," Lee said. "He was an outstanding track coach in the area for many, many years. He coached many great athletes and internationally. I was fortunate to be going to his high school."
Lee entered Cal in the fall of 1967, an exciting time to be on campus.
"Those were the good old college days," he said. "People's Park. I remember sitting on the track watching the helicopters fly over. I remember walking home smelling the pepper gas."
Lee was a walk-on at first, but eventually earned a scholarship by his senior year in 1971. That year, he ran his personal bests in the 120-yard hurdles at 14.1 and 440-yard hurdles at 51.5 (the English events are slightly longer than their metric equivalents).
In 1970, he was approached by a Taiwanese official who asked him if he wanted to compete for Taiwan at the Asian Games. Lee is of Taiwanese heritage -- his Chinese name is Lee Chung-Ping. Lee agreed and won two silver medals at the Games in Bangkok.
"I hit a hurdle in the highs -- I was the favorite there going in," he said. "In the intermediates, I lost on a lean. But that's how it goes. I can say that now. I look back on the records, and nobody remembers second place."
After graduating from Cal, Lee was asked if he'd like to represent Taiwan in the Olympics.
He received scholarship money for graduate school -- about $300 a month -- and spent most of the year competing in meets in California. He went to Taiwan to train for a couple of months, then it was on to Munich.
Lee was 35th overall in the 110 hurdles, then ran a 52.61 in the 400 hurdles, finishing sixth out of seven in his heat and 28th overall.
The four Taiwanese athletes formed a relay team that ran a 41.78 time, finishing seventh out of seven in its heat.
"There were only four guys on the track team," Lee said. "A long jumper, a triple jumper, a sprinter and me. And that was our relay team."
The 1972 Olympics are best remembered for the Palestinian terrorist attack that left 11 Israeli athletes dead.
The games stopped for one day for a memorial service. The rest of the Taiwanese team returned home on its scheduled flight, so the one-day delay meant that Lee was the last Taiwanese athlete in Munich for the closing ceremonies.
"They said, Here's the flag, here's where you're supposed to be,'" Lee recalled.
The flag is now in a closet somewhere, Lee said. He has pulled it out once in a while, to show the kids. But most of the time, it's tucked away, a memory of a summer long ago, when Lee competed at the Games of the XX Olympiad.