Dudes in denim:
Vintage Olympic Heroes
Seventeen-year-old American Bob Mathias (1930-2006) won the 1948 London Olympics
decathlon only four months after taking up the sport.
He remains the youngest athlete in Olympic history to win a men’s athletics event.
Urged to train for a decathlon, Bob Mathias told
his Tulare (California) High School track coach, “Sounds like fun. But just one question:
What's a decathlon?”
The Olympic Games had been canceled for 1940 and 1944 due to the outbreak of World War II,
and the London Olympic Games were the first time in twelve years
that a summer Olympics had been held.
Mathias entered Stanford University in 1949, where he participated in track and field events
and played football, leading Stanford to a Rose Bowl appearance in 1952.
At the next summer Olympics in Helsinki (1952), Mathias established a new world record
by winning the decathlon by 912 points, returning to the USA as a national hero.
His 7,887 point total in Helsinki remained Stanford University’s school record for 63 years,
until it was broken by a freshman last year.
Bob Mathias joined the Marines in 1953, rising to the rank of Captain.
In the late 1950s he embarked on an acting career, appearing in films and television shows.
Film: The Minotaur (1960)
Politics was his next field of endeavor, serving four terms
in the U.S. House of Representatives (California).
In 1983 he was appointed director of the National Fitness Foundation
and was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame that same year.
At age 75 Mathias succumbed to throat cancer (2006).