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Frank Budd, 74; sprinter dubbed fastest man

Frank Budd (right) set a record in the 100-yard dash in 1961. His time was 9.2 seconds.

United Press International

Frank Budd (right) set a record in the 100-yard dash in 1961. His time was 9.2 seconds.

NEW YORK — Frank Budd, a former Olympic sprinter who for a time was considered the world’s fastest human after he set a record in the 100-yard dash in 1961, died Tuesday in Marlton, N.J. He was 74.

His daughter Anitra Speight confirmed the death but did not give a cause. Mr. Budd, who overcame kidney and liver problems as a youth, had a brief career as a 5-foot-10 wide receiver in the National Football League and the Canadian Football League. But his blazing speed on the track brought him international attention.

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At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, he finished fifth in the 100-meter final and helped the US 4x100-meter relay team finish first in the final, although it was disqualified when a teammate passed the baton beyond the passing zone.

The following June, Mr. Budd was a 21-year-old senior at Villanova University, a powerhouse in track and field under legendary coach James “Jumbo” Elliott, when he broke the record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.2 seconds. In that era, the 100-yard record-holder was widely recognized as the world’s fastest human.

Mr. Budd accomplished the feat in the Amateur Athletic Union championships in New York. The New York Times said a crowd of 9,456, including Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, were on hand as Mr. Budd, a “compact collegian” from Asbury Park, N.J., raced “the classic century” in almost windless conditions, beating Villanova teammate Paul Drayton.

In doing so, Mr. Budd broke Olympic gold medalist Mel Patton’s time of 9.3 seconds, set in 1948. (By 1961, several others shared the record officially or, as Mr. Budd did, unofficially.)

Arriving in New York, Mr. Budd had shaken off soreness from a double victory the weekend before at the NCAA outdoor championships in Philadelphia. In that meet, he won the 100-yard title in 9.4 seconds and the 220 in 20.8 seconds.

At a time when track and field events were covered extensively by the media, Mr. Budd became a headline name and the subject of newspaper profiles. (His favorite form of relaxation? “Reading Westerns,” he told The Times. “It gives me a great change of pace.”)

He credited much of his success to his coach, Elliott, who he said taught him to raise his knees, not worry about opponents, eat steak on race morning, and get enough sleep.

“Jumbo kept telling me I could break the world record,” Mr. Budd said. “I guess I got so that I believed him.”

Weeks later, he represented his country in a US-Soviet Union track and field meet in Cold War Moscow. He and Drayton finished one-two in the 100-meter dash and helped the US team set a world record in the 4x100 relay.

Mr. Budd’s record in the 100-yard dash stood until American Bob Hayes, who later starred in the NFL, set an official time of 9.1 seconds in 1963. In 1971, Ivory Crockett, another American, lowered the record to 9.0, which is where it remains, untouchable. In 1976, international track and field officials decided that from then on, they would recognize records only in metric distances, except for the mile.

Francis Joseph Budd was born in Long Branch, N.J., to Thomas and Arletta Budd. His father, a chauffeur, and his mother, a nurse, had been runners in high school. He graduated from Asbury Park High School in 1958 and from Villanova in 1962, with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

Despite kidney and liver problems, Mr. Budd starred in track, basketball, and football in high school, but he preferred football. His father made him promise that if he got a track scholarship he would quit football, and when Villanova offered one, he honored the promise. He denied reports that he had polio as a child.

He pursued his football dream after college, however. In 1962, giving up his chance to compete in the 1964 Summer Olympics, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as their seventh draft choice. He played 13 games for the Eagles as a wide receiver and 14 for the Washington Redskins in 1963. In two years, he had 10 pass receptions and 10 kickoff returns. He then played for the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

After his athletic career, Mr. Budd held positions with the Philadelphia parks system, an Atlantic City casino, and the New Jersey Department of Corrections, as an equal employment opportunity officer. He retired in the early 2000s, his family said.

He lived in Mount Laurel, N.J. Besides Speight, Mr. Budd leaves his wife, the former Barbara Jordan; another daughter, Kimberly Arzillo; a son, Frank Jr.; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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