Jan. 17, 2013
Video: Thomas Breaks World Indoor Record (1959) | Video: Thomas Breaks World Outdoor Record (1960)
Young Man on the Way Up (Sports Illustrated, Feb. 9, 1959)
The Boston University Department of Athletics is saddened to learn of the passing of John Thomas (SED ’63), one of the greatest American high jumpers of all-time. A two-time Olympian and former world record holder, Thomas passed away on Tuesday.
Thomas was a 17-year old freshman at BU when he became the first athlete to break the 7-foot barrier (2.13m) indoors on Jan. 31, 1959, at the Millrose Games in New York. He eventually eclipsed the world indoor record with a leap of 7 feet 1 ¼ inches at the 1959 National AAU Championships.
His captivating freshman season catapulted him to stardom in the track and field world. He broke the world outdoor record three times in 1960, including a career-best jump of 7 feet, 3 ½ inches (2.22m). Thomas won a bronze medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and a silver medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
Thomas was the NCAA high jump champion in each of his four years with the Terriers and captured seven national AAU titles. In his career, he cleared seven feet 191 times and lost only eight competitions.
“John meant a lot to me and to BU," director of track & field and cross country Robyne Johnson said. "In the eight years I’ve been here I found him to be a sincere and nice man. He was a tremendous athlete and he meant a lot to both track and field and to the BU community. He will be missed and we have heavy hearts at the Track and Tennis Center. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Thomas graduated from BU in 1963 and was inducted into the BU Hall of Fame in 1968. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1985 and also named to the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame.