Class of 1948
When one thinks of all of the amazing accomplishments from this Hall of Fame class during the history of the sport, what Bob Mathias did as a prep seems to stand alone. Beating the best in the world at the Olympic Games in the grueling 2-day decathlon seems like nothing a 17-year-old boy should be suited for.
As a Tulare Union HS junior in California 1947, Mathias was not a state champion in any individual event, but his combination of speed, jumping ability and strength was evident in the face that he hurdled 14.6 for 120y, high jumped 6-2 and threw the shot put 52-6 ½ and international discus 150-4. It was an impressive resume of across-the-board talent.
Mathias’s coach, Virgil Jackson, suggested he take up the decathlon in early 1948, perhaps imagine he could contend for an Olympic berth in these first post-World War II games. He improved his hurdle marks enough to sweep the highs and lows in the state meet that spring, and improved his shot to 54 ½ as well. His first-ever decathlon was the Southern Pacific AAU meet in early June, and Mathias won for the first of 11 times with a 7,094 total.
In the Olympic Trials two weeks later, he trailed after day 1, but rallied behind great hurdle and discus efforts and won with 7,222. He was now a medal favorite for London and he needed “just” 7,139 points to win by 165. He was named the Track and Field News HS Athlete of the Year for 1948.
Not that London was perfect, as Mathias had issues in the shot put (nearly fouling out) and high jump. He still had a lot to learn about the 10-eventer. Next, Mathias went to a prep boarding school in Pa. to improve his grades so he could enter Stanford U. the following year. He starred in football there and kept improving his deca, hitting a world record in 1950. Two years later in Helsinki, he absolutely crushed his own world record with a 7,887 total, winning by an astounding 912 point.
Did You Know?
In his post-Olympics life, Bob Mathias would serve four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 to 1975.