Olympic Spotlight: Track's Ray Ewry and Aarik Wilson
July 17, 2008
by Jeff Smith
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games quickly approaching, BigTen.org takes a look at both former and current Olympians who have made their mark in their respective sports. In today’s “Olympic Spotlight” feature, we take a look at the Olympic track careers of Ray Ewry of Purdue and Indiana’s Aarik Wilson.
RAY EWRY, JUMPS, PURDUE, 1892-96
In our first “Olympic Spotlight” feature, we highlighted the gold-medal performances of swimmers Mark Spitz of Indiana and Michigan volunteer assistant coach Michael Phelps. Spitz totaled nine gold medals during his career, while Phelps enters the Beijing Olympics with six. However, when you look at the one Big Ten standout who has won the most Olympic gold medals, you have to go back to the turn of the century. No, not the most recent one. The other one.
That is where you will find the incredible story of Purdue's Ray Ewry. Former Ohio State track star Jesse Owens is long revered as the conference’s greatest athlete, but even he did not manage the Olympic success that Ewry did. Not many people know that Ewry captured 10 gold medals in various jumping events in the 1900, 1904, 1906 and 1908 Games. Probably fewer know that he only competed in those 10 events. That's correct. He was a perfect 10-for-10 in Olympic competition.
But to understand the significance of Ewry’s feat, you must first know the details of his remarkable story. One of the world's greatest jumpers was never even supposed to jump. In fact, he was never expected to walk. Ewry was born in Lafayette, Ind., in 1873 and contracted polio at the age of 7. Doctors once felt Ewry would be paralyzed for life, but one physician in particular encouraged the young boy to attempt to jump over things with hope that his leg strength would increase - a workout now known as plyometrics.
And that is what he did. By the time he enrolled at Purdue in 1890, Ewry had perfected the standing high jump and standing broad jump, as well as the standing hop-step jump. When he traveled to Paris for the 1900 Olympics, Ewry found that the jumping conditions were far worse than anything he ever practiced on near the banks of the Wabash River near his hometown. Participants were forced to jump from a wet, soggy grass, which left several thinking they would sink instead of jump.
Ewry posted a new world record with a leap of 5'-5" in the standing high jump and quickly returned to set another win in the standing broad jump with a mark of 10'-10". In his final competition of the day, the hop, step and jump, Ewry recorded a distance of 34'-8.5" for his third gold medal on the day.
The Boilermaker returned to the 1904 Games to successfully defend all three events. Known as the "Human Frog," he captured two gold medals at the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens and closed out his career at the age of 36 with two more golds at the 1908 Olympics in London. A 15-time national champion in the standing events from 1898 to 1910, Ewry closed out his career with 10 Olympic gold medals. No one in Olympic history has won more.
It should be noted that the 1906 Intercalated Games are currently not officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee, so some Olympic historians put Ewry’s gold-medal total at eight, not 10. However, others count his extra two golds toward his final count as the 1906 Intercalated Games were organized as an Olympic event by the IOC to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the very first Olympics in Athens in 1986.
Ewry died in 1937 and was elected to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.
AARIK WILSON, TRIPLE JUMP, INDIANA, 2001-05
Fast-forwarding one entire century, the Big Ten boasts another top jumper in former Indiana standout Aarik Wilson. Unlike Ewry, Wilson is allowed a running start when he competes in the long jump and triple jump these days, and the talented Hoosier has been running down his Olympic dream over the past few years.
Last month at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., Wilson reached his goal of becoming an Olympian on his final attempt in the triple jump. His leap of 57’-2.25” was good enough to win the competition and automatically qualify him for his first Olympic Games.
In recent years, Wilson has been one of the nation’s top jumpers. His first taste of national competition came during the 2003 season when he finished fifth at the Pan American Games. Following college, Wilson placed sixth at the 2006 World Athletics Final and later competed in the IAAF World Indoor Championships. At the USA Indoor Championships, Wilson finished second in the triple jump at 54’-5.5” and third in the same event at the USA Outdoor Championships with a mark of 55’-5.75”. His efforts that year placed him ninth on the Track & Field News world ranking chart, his first ranking among the top 10.
In 2007, Wilson was crowned the U.S. National Indoor Championships triple jump winner with a mark of 56’-8.5” and was third in the long jump at 26’-3”. In August of last year, Wilson recorded his personal best triple jump in outdoor competition with a mark of 57’-8.25” in London.
During his time at Indiana, Wilson was a 10-time All-American and two-time NCAA Champion. As a senior in 2005, he swept the long jump and triple jump events at the NCAA Indoor Championships and was later named the Great Lakes/Mideast Regional Athlete of the Year and Big Ten Athlete of the Year. Also named the conference’s Outdoor Freshman of the Year in 2002, Wilson earned four straight Big Ten triple-jump crowns during his outdoor career. He claimed the 2003 and 2005 Big Ten Outdoor long jump titles as well. Wilson left Indiana the owner of school records in the indoor long jump (26’-9.75”), indoor triple jump (55’-3”) and outdoor triple jump (55’-8.25”).