Dogs versus dogs: BU's Terriers against NU's Huskies in the Beanpot Tournament, 8 p.m., Monday, February 5, at the Fleet Center

Vol. IV No. 21   ·   2 February 2001 


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Simply BU's best. They called him Jumpin' John around campus. After he broke the world indoor high jump record as a freshman Terrier, he was dubbed "the human missile." His coach, Ed Flanagan, remarked that he was young enough to be a four-time -- possibly even five-time -- Olympian by the time he turned 30. He was described as serious, intense, handsome, shy, polite, withdrawn, and "a study in athletic poise" by the press.

  One month before making his world record jump in Madison Square Garden, John Thomas displays athletic poise while clearing the bar at a track and field competition at Tufts. Photo by BU Photo Services

John Thomas (SED'63) was to the indoor high jump what Roger Bannister was to the mile; Bannister broke the four-minute-mile barrier, and Thomas cleared the bar at seven feet. While wearing the scarlet and white, the former high school track star set a new world's indoor high jump record at 7' 1 1/4" at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden at the age of 17.

Thomas got the track world buzzing after his appearance at the Boston Knights of Columbus games in January 1959 at the Boston Garden, when he cleared 6' 11 3/4" and established the accepted world indoor record. Then, at the Millrose Games, 15,000 witnessed Thomas clear the seven-foot mark. Charlie Dumas, USC Olympic star, jumped against Thomas' mark and failed. But because AAU officials neglected to measure after Thomas' jump, the record was in jeopardy. Jumpin' John later soared over the seven-foot bar at the National AAU Indoor Track and Field Championships at Madison Square Garden, and officials quickly confirmed the new world record on February 21, 1959.

Thomas was favored to win the gold medal in the high jump in both the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. He got the bronze instead in '60 after failing to clear 7' 1", a height he had mastered countless times, and earned the silver in '64 in a controversial technicality. Although he tied Russian track star Valeri Brummel's jump of 7' 1 3/4", Brummel had attained the height on two attempts and Thomas on three. Brummel got the gold.


Thomas meets his rival, Russian track and field star Valeri Brummel, at an AAU meet on February 24, 1961. Photo by Dick Raphael


Despite crushing his foot in an elevator accident at BU prior to the 1960 Olympics and a hernia he concealed during the 1964 Olympics, Thomas continued piling up records, titles, and medals. Only 19 when he went to the 1960 games in Rome, he was the holder of all world records and had topped seven feet 37 times. Prior to his retirement from competition in 1968, Thomas had made 13 world-record jumps, won 8 national titles, and, cleared over seven feet 190 times. He was inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1985 and was recognized as one of New England's top 100 athletes in 1999.

Thomas stayed with the Terriers as an assistant track coach before entering the business world. Today he is athletic director at Roxbury Community College.


2 February 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations