Jean Shiley


Class of 1929

Jean Shiley

As a 16-year-old girls’ basketball player at Haverford Township HS in 1928, Jean Shiley probably never dreamed she was just four years away from winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the high jump. But a local sportswriter, who was impressed by her leaping ability and 4-10 PR at the time, suggested she try out for the 1928 Olympic team. Shiley started working with Lawson Robertson, a Penn (and Olympic team) track coach. By May of that year, she had scaled the 5-foot barrier with an American record-tying 5-0 ½. Shiley went on to a second-place finish in both the AAU Nationals and the Olympic Trials. At the 1928 Games in Paris, she leapt to a fourth-place finish.

Shiley kept improving as a senior in 1929, setting the American and World indoor records in late March in Boston, at 5-3 1/8, then tying the outdoor U.S. standard at 5-2. Sweeping the AAU indoor and outdoor titles, she was clearly the nation’s best jumper upon graduation. She headed to Temple U. and continued to compete in the event with the Meadowbrook Club.

By the time the Trials for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games rolled around, she had four straight AAU indoor and outdoor titles under her belt. In the Trials, Shiley and the legendary Babe Didrickson tied for the victory. As a testament to her competitive record and leadership ability, she was selected as captain of Team USA.

At the Games, in one of the great field event duals in Olympic history, Shiley and Didrickson each made it up to twin world-record clearances of 5-5, before missing at 5-6. Then they tied again during the jumpoff at 5-5 ¾ (1.67m) – but Shiley claimed the gold when Didrickson’s Western roll technique was ruled to be “diving.” That 5-5 mark would stand as a world record for seven years (jumpoff marks were not admissible) and as an American record for 16. Shiley’s best indoor mark of 5-3 ¼, just above her prep best, stood for 38 years. She was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1993.

Did You Know?

With her 1932 high jump triumph in Los Angeles, Jean Shiley became the first Temple Owl athlete to win an Olympic Gold Medal in any sport.