PASSING OF A HERO

John Thomas

John Thomas

An ArmoryTrack.com news release has informed us that two-time Olympic high jump medalist John Thomas of Brockton, Massachusetts passed away Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at the age of 71.

A soft-spoken gentleman, Thomas was revered – especially in his native New England – as one of his sport’s most enduring icons.  He was also among my personal boyhood heroes, joining former mile record holder Jim Ryun, St. Louis Cardinals baseball star Stan Musial, and St. Louis Hawks basketball All-Star Bob Pettit. With great fortune I got to know “JT” during my quarter-century living in Boston.  Meeting your heroes later in life and finding that they embody all the qualities you’d  imagined of them as a young fan is one of the pleasures life can offer.

The following is from last March 25th’s High Jump Heroes which speaks to the seeds of a life long passion planted in a young boy’s heart by heroes like John Thomas and his great Russian rival Valery Brumel. Continue reading

HIGH JUMP HEROES

Valery Brumel & John Thomas

The two silver maples in our small backyard stood like sentinels some twenty feet apart as they guarded the house with their interlocking canopies of green.  During the brutal St. Louis summers when the heat and humidity would fight to reach 100F first – then stay the longest – the shade from those old squirrel-bearers represented the fringe ground of relief in a world bounded by torpor and sweat.

Strung at a height of around seven feet between the two trees ran a twisted rusty wire on which my mother used to hang potted flowers, part of the riot of colors she cultivated in our yard.  But that old wire always represented something more to my agitated young mind than a tree leveller or flower pot holder.

You see, I was a high jump enthusiast in my youth, just as I would become a running enthusiast in my adult years. So whether it was jumping up to touch the top of every door jamb I passed, hopping over the hedge mom had planted out front along the sidewalk, or paying a neighborhood kid a nickel to keep holding a broomstick for me to scissor over, my life was nothing but an extension of my athletic passions. On many a sweltering summer night as I lay open to the endless possibilities ahead, I dreamed of being able to leap over that wire in our backyard, because that was how high my heroes jumped.

During those growing years when athletes were still unseen giants of the imagination, two of my athletic heroes were Olympic high jumpers John Thomas of Boston, and his great rival Valery Brumel of the Soviet Union.  Between the two of them Thomas and Brumel exchanged the high jump world record nine times in the early 1960s (six for Brumel, three for Thomas) as they battled for leaping supremacy when Olympic sport was a highly-charged subtext of the Cold War. Continue reading