Truly “Unbroken,” Zamperini Shined At NCAAs
The final day’s track portion of the 1938 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships got started with one of the meet’s classic mile races.
Returning was champion Charles Fenske of Wisconsin, but everyone knew to keep an eye on Louis Zamperini, a sophomore from Southern California – especially on the last lap at Minnesota’s Memorial Stadium.
In Zamperini’s last major race, the then-19-year-old had the fastest last lap of the 5000 meters in the 1936 Olympics and finished eighth (It was a fast race as the top-4 men either bettered or equaled the Olympic record). Zamperini earned his spot on the U.S. team thanks to tying for first at the Olympic Trials. Here is another interesting tidbit: Zamperini’s roommate at the Olympic Games that year was none other than Jesse Owens.
At the bell here, Zamperini was in fourth place behind leaders Fenske and Missouri’s John Munski. Indiana’s Jim Smith moved from third to first briefly on the backstretch before Fenske took control until Zamperini zoomed past on the last turn and held off the Badger for the victory.
The times were incredible, as both Zamperini (4:08.3) and Fenske (4:08.8) bettered the NCAA meet record of 4:08.9 set in 1934 when Princeton’s Bill Bonthron beat two-time defending champ Glenn Cunningham of Kansas. In fact, only Cunningham’s 4:06.7 in 1934 – a world record at the time – had ever been run faster by a collegian.
Zamperini won the NCAA mile again in 1939, but by the time his meet record was finally broken in 1953, he had become a World War II hero, having survived 47 days afloat in the Pacific Ocean after his Army plane crashed, followed by more than two years of brutal punishment as a prisoner of war.
His experiences were detailed in the best-selling 2010 biography Unbroken, which was adapted as a major motion picture under the same name in 2014. The theatrical release, unfortunately, came a few months after Zamperini died at the age of 97, one of the oldest-known NCAA champions.
The NCAA and collegiate track & field will mark a momentous milestone in the spring of 2021 -- the 100th anniversary of the NCAA Championships and with that, the NCAA Track & Field Championships. In June 1921, the University of Chicago hosted the first track & field championships in NCAA history.
This point can’t be emphasized enough: Not only was the event the first for NCAA track & field, but the first championships for any sport under the sponsorship of the NCAA.
To celebrate, over each of the next 365 days, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) will celebrate moments, student-athletes, and coaches that have made a century’s worth of championships special. From humble beginnings to important historical milestones to the modern-day, collegiate track & field has evolved with the American society.
The 2021 edition of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships begin with preliminary round action on May 27-29 in Jacksonville, Fla., and College Station, Texas. The championships final site and culmination of the celebration is slated for June 9-12, 2021 at the newly rebuilt Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
Tipton Led 1-2-3 Oregon Finish In 1964 JT
Les Tipton led the first podium sweep of any event in the history of the NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships. Tipton and his Oregon teammates went 1-2-3 in the 1964 javelin.
K-State’s Jones Captured Heptathlon Crown In 2015
Akela Jones won the heptathlon at the 2015 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships with 6371 points. That is the fourth-best score in both collegiate history & meet history.
Same Athletes, Same Result For LSU At NCAAs
The LSU foursome of Bennie Brazell, Pete Coley, Robert Parham, Kelly Willie swept the 4×100 & 4×400 crowns at the 2003 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships.
Martin Won Distance Titles For Two Programs
Francis (Frank) Martin made history twice in the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
FSU’s Williams Soared To Jumps Double In 2009
Kim Williams swept the horizontal jumps at the 2009 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships. Williams was particularly dominant in the TJ, winning at 14.38m (47-2¼) & by nearly 2 feet.
Clemson’s Ross Kept Getting Faster In 1995
Duane Ross PR’d twice in the 110H at the 1995 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships. When Ross won in 13.32, he became the No. 3 performer in collegiate history.
Illinois’ Kerr Went Back-To-Back At NCAAs
George Kerr won back-to-back 800/880 titles at the NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in 1959 & 1960. Kerr set a meet record of 1:46.4 in the 800 meters in 1960.
UCLA’s Baucham Bounded To TJ CR In 2005
Candice Baucham won the triple jump at the 2005 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships with a collegiate record of 14.07m (46-2). Baucham took the event by more than one foot.
San Romani Went From Unknown To Legend
Archie San Romani won back-to-back 1500/mile crowns at the NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in 1935 & 1936.
Auburn’s Glance Made Them Look Twice
Harvey Glance completed the 100-200 double as a freshman at the 1976 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships. He set a meet record of 10.16 in the 100.