Cornelius Johnson

Class of 1933

Cornelius Johnson

Preps jumping over 6 feet, 6 inches (or 2.00 meters, 6-6.75 for the metrically-minded) is still not a small accomplishment. Plenty of coaches would be thrilled with a six-and-a-half foot leaper that would win many league or region/district meets and place in many state meets across the nation in 2018. So imagine having a jumper like that 86 years ago, in 1932.

When Cornelius “Corny” Johnson came to Los Angeles High School from Berendo Jr. High in 1931-32, he already had a rep as the best young talent in Southern California. As a sophomore that spring, he leapt 6-4 to take 2nd in the CIF state meet. At that point, he was one of the best preps in the nation and could even dream about the Olympics in his home town the following year.

Sure enough, as an 18-year-old in 1932, Johnson broke the national high school record and made the Olympic team with a victory in the Trials. He improved his PR to 6-6.5 and, in the Los Angeles final in the Coliseum, Johnson was one place out of the medals in 4th (6-5.5). The top three leapt the same height and, under current rules, Johnson would have actually won silver.

With one more year as a prep, Johnson set a course to becoming the world’s best. His technique was called “a panther-like western roll.” He reset his HSR in 1933 at 6-7 – not to be broken for 22 years – and won the first of five straight AAU titles. He ranked #1 in the world for the year.

Moving on to Compton Junior College under Coach Hersh, Johnson kept improving. By the 1936 Olympic Trials, he reached a world-record height of 6-9.75, tied later in the competition by Dave Albritton. In Berlin, he leapt 6-8 and captured the gold – making the four long years since Los Angeles well worth the effort.

Johnson retired soon after the Games from the high jump, then became a letter carrier for the Post Office in his home town. Then in 1945 he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine. Unfortunately, Johnson passed away very young. While working as a baker aboard a ship in ‘46, he contracted bronchopneumonia and did not make it from the ship to a California hospital. He was just 32.

Did You Know?

When Corny Johnson won Olympic Gold and set a world record, not only was the Fosbury Flop still 32 years away, but jumpers also did not have the cushy mats of today; they basically landed in a sawdust pit on the other side of the bar.