Ralph Boston, who in 1960 broke Jesse Owens‘ world record in the long jump and then won the Olympic title, died at age 83, according to Tennessee State, his alma mater, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic alumni association.
Boston died Sunday morning after recently suffering a stroke, according to the Tennessean.
In August 1960, Boston broke Owens’ world record in the long jump that stood since 1935. Boston leaped 8.21 meters, eight centimeters better than Owens.
“Until then, I saw myself as just another local yokel,” Boston, who called Owens a mentor and dear friend, said last year.
Three weeks later, Boston took gold at the Rome Olympics.
Boston won silver and bronze at the next two Olympics and remains the lone person to win an Olympic long jump medal of every color. Only Carl Lewis, who won four golds, has more Olympic long jump medals.
Boston broke the men’s long jump world record six times between 1960-65 and shared the record going into the 1968 Mexico City Games.
If not for Boston, fellow American long jumper Bob Beamon might not have pulled off the most astonishing feat of those Olympics.
Boston was reportedly an inspiration for Beamon, having spoken in front of Beamon and his classmates in a high school gym in 1964.
In the run-up to the 1968 Olympics, Boston reportedly became Beamon’s unofficial coach after Beamon and other UTEP track athletes lost their scholarships for boycotting a meet against BYU because of the Mormon church’s historically racist views.
At the 1968 Games, Boston broke his own Olympic record in qualifying by jumping 8.27 meters.
Also in qualifying, Beamon fouled his first two of three jumps, giving him one last chance to make the final. Sensing Beamon’s nerves, Boston told his younger teammate to “move it back three feet” with a cautious jump to avoid fouling, Beamon later said. Beamon heeded the advice and advanced.
In the final, Beamon’s first jump was so far that the measuring device couldn’t extend far enough to record it. After a half-hour process to locate and lay out tape, it was Boston who broke the news to Beamon that he had jumped 8.90 meters, improving the world record by nearly two feet.
“It was easy to end my career,” in 1968, Boston said. “I’d won a gold, silver and a bronze in that order. There’s nothing for fourth place, so I just said, ‘OK, that’s enough.'”
I'm devastated about Ralph Boston's passing. As a child I idolized him and he was a major influence in my life. I'll miss his voice and support. He changed the game as an athlete, advocate and mentor. Jumpers, Know his name!!! Rest with the greats.
— Carl Lewis (@Carl_Lewis) April 30, 2023