Posted: Tuesday September 5, 2006 2:50PM; Updated: Tuesday September 5, 2006 6:20PM
In track and field, Mathias continued to defend his AAU decathlon crown, winning the nationals four straight times, then his second Olympic gold medal in Helsinki, breaking his own world record and prevailing over his nearest rival, teammate Milt Campbell, by a staggering 912 points, the largest margin in Olympic history. At 21, undefeated in his sport, Mathias retired.
He became an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. With his movie-star looks, he was then courted by Hollywood and ended up playing himself in The Bob Mathias Story, a film that came out in 1954. He acted in a few other forgettable television and movie productions and later became a director of his own boys' camp. Then he moved on to politics, serving four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 to '74 as a Republican. After being one of 57 GOP congressmen voted out of office following the Watergate scandal, it was back to the Olympic movement when he became the first director of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
"The epitome of the all-American boy...." That's how the subhead read in Mathias' obituary in TheNew York Times. He was a real-life Jack Armstrong, a champion who really was a role model. Humble, civic-minded, untainted by the hint of drugs or scandal. One wonders where such men are today. In Tulare, the farming community where he was born, Bob Mathias will be laid to rest on Wednesday, Sept. 6. He will be, and should always be, remembered as one of America's best.