September 3, 2006

WORLD'S GREATEST ATHLETE:

Bob Mathias; Congressman, Twice Olympic Champion (Martin Weil, 9/03/06, Washington Post)

Bob Mathias, 75, who won the decathlon in the Olympic Games as a teenager and then went on to win it a second time and to represent a California district in Congress, died Sept. 2 at his home in Fresno. A family friend said he died of cancer.

Rep. Mathias served four terms in the House of Representatives as a Republican, from 1967 to 1974.

He was a high school student in Tulare, in California's steamy, sun-baked Central Valley, in 1948 when he began training to compete in that year's Olympics.

The '48 Games were to be held in London and would mark the resumption -- after 12 years -- of the world's premier international athletic competition, which had been suspended during World War II.

If the Olympics were regarded as the supreme test of the amateur athlete, the decathlon was considered the greatest challenge offered in the Games. It was argued that the winner of the Olympic decathlon, with its 10 track-and-field events, was the world's greatest athlete.

The competition required of Rep. Mathias skills in several events with which he was barely familiar, including the pole vault, long jump and javelin throw.

As the youngest member of the 1948 Olympic team, he was said at the time to be the youngest ever to represent the United States.

When Rep. Mathias, as a 17-year-old, struggled across the finish line of the final event, the 1,500-meter run, to win the gold medal, he became a national hero, honored for a demonstration of surpassing strength, versatility and endurance.

It was reported that when asked about how he would celebrate, he replied: "I'll start shaving, I guess."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 3, 2006 6:44 AM
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