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Olympic medal record
Men's Athletics
Gold 1948 London Decathlon
Gold 1952 Helsinki Decathlon

Robert Bruce "Bob" Mathias (November 17, 1930 – September 2, 2006) was an American decathlete, two-time Olympic gold medalist, actor and United States Congressman representing the state of California.


Early life and athletic career

Bob Mathias on the cover of the July 21, 1952 issue of TIME magazine

Mathias was born in Tulare, California and took up the decathlon at the suggestion of his coach, Virgil Jackson, at Tulare Union High School early in 1948. During the summer, he qualified for the United States Olympic team for the 1948 Summer Olympics held in London.

In the Olympics, Mathias's naïveté about the decathlon was exposed [1]. He was unaware of the rules in the shot put and nearly fouled out of the event. He almost failed in the high jump but was able to recover. Mathias overcame his difficulties and won the Olympic gold medal easily. He was the youngest gold medalist to win a track and field event.

Mathias continued to fare well in decathlons in the four years between the London games and the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. In 1948, Mathias won the James E. Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete, but because his scholastic record in high school did not match his athletic achievement, he spent a year at The Kiski School, a well respected all boys boarding school in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. He then entered Stanford University in 1949, played college football for two years and was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Mathias set his first decathlon world record in 1950 and led Stanford to a Rose Bowl appearance in 1952.

At Helsinki, Mathias asserted himself as one of the world's best athletes. He won the decathlon by 912 points, an astounding margin, becoming the first to successfully defend an Olympic decathlon title. He returned to the United States as a national hero. In 1952, he was, therefore, the first person to ever compete in an Olympics and a Rose Bowl the same year. After the 1952 Olympics, Mathias retired from athletic competition. He later became the first director of the United States Olympic Training Center, a post he held from 1977 to 1983.

In 1954 a film about his early life called The Bob Mathias Story was released, in which he and his wife Melba played themselves. He also starred in a number of mostly cameo-type roles in a variety of movies and TV shows throughout the 1950s. In the 1959-1960 television season, Mathias played Frank Dugan, with costars Keenan Wynn as Kodiak and Chet Allen as Slats, in the NBC adventure series The Troubleshooters, which focused twenty-six episodes on events at construction sites.[1]

Political career

Between 1967 and 1975, Matthias served four terms in the United States House of Representatives as a Republican, representing the northern San Joaquin Valley of California. He defeated Harlan Hagen, the 14-year Democratic Party incumbent by about 11 percent in the 1966 election. This was not too surprising, since this area had started to pull away from its New Deal Democratic roots.

Mathias was re-elected three times without serious difficulty, but in 1974, the boundaries his Congressional district were radically modified in the redistricting required by the U.S. Constitution, with most of its more rural parts sent to other districts, and then replaced with part of urban Fresno. Mathias was then narrowly defeated for re-election by John Hans Krebs, a member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, who was one of several Republicans reputedly swept out in the wake of the Watergate scandal. From June to August 1975, Mathias served as the Deputy Director of the Selective Service. Mathias was also involved in the unsuccessful 1976 Presidential re-election campaign of President Gerald Ford.

Bob Mathias suffered from cancer, and he died of this disease in Fresno, California on September 2, 2006, aged 75.


Year Comment
November 17, 1930 Bob Mathias was born, the second of four children to Dr. Charles and Lillian Mathias.
1948 At age seventeen, graduated from Tulare high school after an illustrious high school athletic career in football and track and field. Wins National Decathlon Championship at Bloomfield, N.J.

He qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team and went on to win gold medal in decathlon at the Summer Olympic Games in London, England.

After huge celebration and parade in Tulare, presented with "Key to the City" by Mayor Elmo Zumwalt. Enrolls at Kiskiminetas Prep School, Saltsburg, Pa. Honored with the James E. Sullivan Award, presented each year to America's top amateur athlete.

1949 Won National Decathlon Championship at meet staged in Tulare.

Enrolled at Stanford University, where he starred in track and field and in gridiron football.

1950 Won National Decathlon Championship at a meet held in Tulare.
1951 On New Year's Day, he played fullback for Stanford University in the Rose Bowl.

Mathias played football during junior and senior years at Stanford. In the University of Southern California vs. Stanford football game, Mathias returned U.S.C.'s Frank Gifford's kick-off 96 yards for a touchdown.

Spent the summer at U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, California.

1952 Won the National Decathlon Championship at meet held in Tulare.

Made the U.S. Olympic Team again, and won the Olympic Gold Medal in the decathlon at Helsinki, Finland, setting a record for points scored in a decathlon.

1953 Graduated from Stanford. Drafted by the Washington Redskins, though he never played in National Football League.
1954 Married his first wife, Melba. They later had three daughters, Romel, Megan, and Marissa. Mathias and his wife starred in the movie "The Bob Mathias Story."

Entered active duty in the Marine Corps as a Second Lieutenant.

1954-56 Visited more than forty countries as America's Good Will Ambassador.
1956-60 Continued work for the State Department as a Good Will Ambassador to the world.

Acting career took off, employed by John Wayne. Starred in the movie "China Doll" with Victor Mature, the TV series "The Troubleshooters" with Keenan Wynn, as King Theseus in the movie "Theseus and the Minotaur" and in the movie "It Happened in Athens," opposite Jayne Mansfield.

1966 Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican, serving four two-year terms.
1974 Lost his re-election for fifth term.
1976 Mathias and wife, Melba, divorced.
1977 Appointed director of U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Bob and Gwendoyln Alexander married. Gwen has one daughter Alyse, from a prior marriage to Bill Alexander, former U.S. Congressman. Bob also has a son, Reiner, born outside of wedlock.

Tulare high school stadium renamed in Mathias's honor.

1983 Appointed executive director of the National Fitness Foundation.
1988 Returned to the Central Valley, in rural Fresno County.
1996 Sim Iness died. He was Mathias's high school classmate and the winner of the Gold Medal in the discus throw during the 1952 Olympic Games.

Doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in Mathias's throat.

June 6, 1998 "Across the Fields of Gold," a tribute dinner honoring Mathias on the 50th anniversary of his first Olympic medal, was held in Tulare. More than 300 people attended, including Olympic medal-winners Sammy Lee, Bill Toomey, Dave Johnson and Pat McCormick, and Sim Iness' widow, Dolores.


  • "The Bob Mathias Story" by Bob Mathias with Robert Mendes;
  • "Bob Mathias, Champion of Champions," by Jim Scott;
  • "Bob Mathias: The Life of the Olympic Champion," by Myron Tassin;
  • "Bob Mathias, Across the Fields of Gold," by Chris Terrence;
  • Tulare Historical Museum;
  • Wangrin, Mark (1999). "Bob Mathias: Youth Is Served". In ESPN SportsCentury. Michael MacCambridge, Editor. New York: Hyperion-ESPN Books. p. 146.
  • Advance-Register archives and staff reports.

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Dick Kazmaier
Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
Ben Hogan
Preceded by
United States Glenn Morris
Men's Decathlon World Record Holder
June 30, 1950 – June 11, 1955
Succeeded by
United States Rafer Johnson
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Harlan Hagen
United States Representative for the 18th Congressional District of California
Succeeded by
William M. Ketchum


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