It Was 60 Years Ago Today
If asked what was the single greatest day of track & field to have taken place on American soil, many a pundit would immediately cite the 1935 Big 10 Championships (also known at the time as the Western Conference). Said meet was hosted at Michigan’s legendary Ferry Field in Ann Arbor. That May 25 day, of course, was when Jesse “The Buckeye Bullet” Owens set 5 World Records and tied another in the span of 45 minutes.
The Ohio Stater began by tying the 100y WR (9.4) and then set new WRs in the 220 (20.3, also breaking the 200m record), 220 hurdles (22.6, also breaking the 200 record) and most notably, the long jump (26-8¼/8.13). An incredible day in U.S. track & field history, no doubt, but 25 years later, an unheralded competition took place that arguably belongs in the single “greatest day” conversation.
Four weeks after the 2-day 1960 Olympic Trials at Stanford, the U.S. team would participate in a series of three West Coast pre-Olympic meets before shuffling off to New York City for processing en route to the Rome Games. First, they’d compete in Eugene, Oregon (July 30), then in Long Beach, California (August 5), and lastly, a meeting at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California (August 12). So extraordinary was the concluding contest that the Los Angeles Times gushingly proclaimed it “the greatest ever mass assault on the track & field record book.”
Larry Snyder, who, not so coincidentally, had been Owens’ college coach at the time of his ’35 fireworks show, was appointed as the head coach for the ’60 Olympic squad. When gathering the troops for their team meeting just prior to this final training meet, he implored his Olympians to “post marks that would put a scare into the Russians.”
Coach Snyder’s words resonated soundly, as in the brief 3½ hours thereafter, his boys amassed an unprecedented tally of American and World bests. Some 8,600 lucky attendees witnessed the breaking of 5 world marks and two tied, plus the setting of 2 American Records set and 2 more tied… all in rapid-fire succession in a meet that was all men’s events save for an exhibition women’s discus competition.
Set some 30 minutes south and east of Pasadena, Mt. SAC was known for its exceptional facility. Combined with ideal atmospheric conditions the stage was set for peak performances. The most noteworthy record to fall took place in the program’s second event of the evening, the broad jump, as the LJ was then called.
A 21-year-old junior from Nashville’s Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State College (now Tennessee State University), Ralph Boston, eclipsed the oldest WR on the books, Owens’ 25-plus-years standard of 26-8¼. From his very first leap of the night, Boston was on fire. On his inaugural effort he stretched out well beyond 26-feet (7.92) but, as he sat back in the sand, was awarded just 23-10 (6.96) for his efforts.
Thereafter, the lanky leaper produced the best series that the event had ever seen, starting with consecutive marks of 26-¾, 26-6 and 26-1½ (7.94, 8.07, 7.96). For his fifth attempt, Boston extended his approach by an extra 6-feet (2m), from where he sprinted for all he was worth before coming down to earth 26-11¼ (8.21) later, 3 entire inches further than any man had ever previously long jumped with legal wind. Observing, “This is the fastest runway I have ever competed on” Boston etched his name into the WR ledger.
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ABOVE: The results card for Boston’s historic world record smashing long jump evening. Click on photo to enlarge. COURTESY: Ralph Boston