Monday, July 30, 2012
Boy-wonder Mathias elevated decathlon
Sports are filled with true-life fairy tales, stories that are more amazing than fiction. But even accepting that premise, the rise of Bob Mathias almost defies belief.
One day the 17-year-old Californian is a regional prep star. A few months later, he's a national hero. Before 1948, Mathias had never participated in a decathlon. That summer in London, he won the Olympic gold medal in the grueling 10-event competition.
Quite an accomplishment for anybody, but especially for someone who suffered from anemia in early childhood and had to live on special diets, pop iron pills, and take frequent naps to conserve his strength. He also suffered from the typical childhood illnesses -- chicken pox, measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever.
Mathias overcame all and became a high school track star in, among other events, the discus, shot put, high hurdles, high jump and sprints. For a new challenge his coach suggested that Mathias expand his versatility and compete in the decathlon.
If ever a coaching suggestion hit the target, this was it. Mathias became the youngest men's winner of a track and field event in the history of the Olympics in 1948 and four years later he became the first to win consecutive Olympic decathlons. Unbeaten in 11 decathlons in his career, he won four national AAU championships and three times set world records.