Early Era Stars

Inspiring Tradition

Black and white photo of four men, with caption "Oregon's World Champions." From left toright: Dan Kelly, running broad jump; W. J. Petrain, Oregonian representative; Forrest Smithson, hurdler; and A. C. Gilbert, pole vault. Dan Kelly: Pinnacle Performer
Kelly became Oregon’s first world-record holder in 1906, earning the feat in both the 100-yard dash and the 220-yard race. Kelly’s triumphs ran over into the next season when his broad jumping efforts made him the first UO All-American. To top off his athletic career, Kelly won the silver medal in the broad jump at the 1908 London Olympics, another first for the University.

Ralph Hill: Hero of the Games
An All-American and Pacific Coast Conference standout, Hill is best remembered for his tenacious run against the Finnish duo Lauri Lehtinen and Lauri Virtanen during the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Hill battled the Flying Finns for 11 laps until Virtanen faded behind. During the final lap, Lehtinen blocked Hill while trying to pass. As the pair crossed the finish line, it appeared to be a tie. Accounts claim that Lehtinen should have been disqualified. However, there was no formal protest, and Lehtinen was awarded the gold medal. Lehtinen apologized to Hill and during the medal ceremony, tried to pull him up on the winner’s platform, but Hill remained on the silver medal stand. Hill was proclaimed the Hero of the Games for his sportsmanship and respectable reaction to the circumstances. He finished the historic race with a time of 14:30.0.

Black and white photo of University of Oregon sprinter Matthew "Mack" Robinson bursting out of the starting blocks in a posed picture taken at Hayward Field during the late 1930s. Robinson finished second behind Jesse Owens in the 200 meters at 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Mack Robinson: Sprinting Superstar
Mack Robinson, older brother of legendary baseball Hall of Fame member Jackie Robinson, made a name for himself in athletics as well. As a sprinter in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Robinson finished second in the 200-meter race, just 0.4 seconds behind his American teammate Jesse Owens. The African-American duo’s stellar performances turned many heads at the Berlin Games, where Adolph Hitler was actively promoting the superiority of the Caucasian race.

Robinson had been attending Pasadena Junior College prior to his Olympic experience. Oregon’s legendary Bill Hayward befriended Robinson during the Olympics and convinced him to come to Eugene. He enrolled at the University of Oregon for the 1937-1938 academic year. During the next track season, Robinson continued his success, setting the school-record in the 220-yard low hurdles, capturing the NCAA 220-yard title, and claiming the AAU 200-meter Championship. With Robinson competing for Oregon, the team did not lose a dual meet during the 1938 season. Robinson graduated from the University of Oregon in 1941 with a degree in physical education. Some observers argued that Mack was actually more athletically talented than his younger brother Jackie. However, both brothers made considerable contributions to breaking racial barriers in their respective athletic fields.

Black and white photo of University of Oregon and Northwest Conference champion pole vaulter George Varoff clearing the bar in 1937.George Varoff: Soaring Sportsman
George Varoff held the world-record in pole-vaulting, starting a long Oregon tradition of greatness in the event. Obtaining the mark just days before the U.S. Olympic Trials, Varoff unfortunately, was unable to qualify for the Games in Berlin. However, the world leader rebounded from the disappointment to capture the 1936, 1937 and 1939 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) pole-vault championship titles.

Les Steers: Leaping Legend
Les Steers, a world-class high jumper, won the AAU Championship three consecutive years from 1939 to 1941. In addition to winning the AAU championship in 1941, Steers captured the NCAA title, set the high jump world-record, and broke the American-record twice. A prime candidate for the Olympics, Steers never had the chance to show his talents at the Games because both the 1940 Tokyo Olympics and 1944 London Olympic were cancelled due to World War II.

	Black and white photo taken between 1939 and 1942 at Hayward Field, of University of Oregon javelin thrower and four-time AAU national champion Boyd Brown demonstrating his form and grip, using his index and middle fingers because he lacked a thumb. Boyd Brown: Javelin Genius
Boyd Brown currently stands as Oregon’s only four-time National AAU Javelin Champion. Brown dominated the javelin, an event that requires specific hand coordination, without a thumb on his right hand (his throwing hand). The four-time All-American topped the javelin landscape from 1939-1942.

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