“I’m sure you won,” Remigino, a Manhattan College student, said to McKenley in the interim. The judges saw it differently.

Both runners were given the same time, but Remigino was declared the winner. McKenley got a silver. In his best event, the 400, McKenley also finished second to another countryman, George Rhoden.

On the final day of racing, McKenley returned to the track to run the third leg on Jamaica’s 4x400-meter relay team. When he received the baton, McKenley was 12 meters behind the American Charlie Moore. But McKenley ran what was then considered the fastest 400 — an unofficial split of 44.9 seconds — to give Rhoden a one-meter lead to start the anchor leg, and Rhoden held it to the finish. Both Jamaica and the United States broke the world record, and McKenley had finally won a gold medal.

McKenley devoted the rest of his life to making Jamaica an international powerhouse in the sprints. His legacy was showcased in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Jamaica is also expected to do well in this summer’s London Games.

It seemed impossible that anyone could overshadow McKenley’s last-day performance in Helsinki, but there had never been a runner like Emil Zatopek. Competing in his first marathon, Zatopek ran the British world-record holder Jim Peters off his feet at the 20-mile mark, and entered the stadium with a lead of more than two minutes. Reinaldo Corno of Argentina finished second. Corno was the one sitting next to me a few days earlier, thinking Zatopek would most likely not attempt the marathon.

As Zatopek circled the stadium track en route to his third Olympic record in three races, the entire crowd rose to its feet and turned his name into a staccato cheer: “Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek!” These Finns were fully versed in the history of Nurmi, and they well understood they were witnessing an Olympic feat that might never be equaled. (To this day, it hasn’t been.)

I remember the moment as if it were yesterday: the excitement verging on disbelief, and the thunderous acclaim.

In 1979, I invited Zatopek to New York to be grand marshal of the New York City Marathon. I introduced him to Bill Rodgers, whose eyes widened as he muttered, “Mind-boggling.”

As the three of us went running in Central Park the day before Rodgers won his fourth straight New York City Marathon, a photographer asked the driver of a parks department cart if he could climb aboard to take some pictures. When the driver, who was from Prague, recognized his balding countryman, he shouted, “Zatopek!” and broke into tears as the two men embraced.

I’ve been a television commentator at three Olympics, but this summer I’ll be watching the Games at home like millions of others. That won’t diminish my enthusiasm. When Usain Bolt explodes from the starting blocks, I’ll jump out of my chair almost as quickly. And when today’s distance stars battle through the last laps of the 10,000 meters, I’m sure that I’ll feel much of the same excitement I did while watching Zatopek 60 years ago.

George A. Hirsch, chairman of the New York Road Runners, was the longtime worldwide publisher of Runner’s World.