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.
ON THIS DAY: Kerley Set 400-Meter CR In Austin
Fred Kerley set a collegiate record in the 400 on this day in 2017. Kerley went 43.70 at the NCAA DI West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas.
Reese Left Her Mark On NCAA LJ
Brittney Reese won the long jump at the 2008 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships with a mark of 6.93m (22-9). Reese missed the meet record by just 1cm (½ inch).
Foster Won All-Time Classic 110H In 1978
Greg Foster won an epic 110H race at the 1978 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships. Foster beat Renaldo Nehemiah & set an AR, CR & MR in the process with his 13.22.
D’Agostino Won By Slim Margin In 2012
Abbey D’Agostino won back-to-back 5K titles at the NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships in 2012 & 2013. When D’Agostino won in 2012, it was by just 0.03 seconds.
Tupuritis Shocked The Field In 1996
Einars Tupuritis won the 800 at the 1996 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships by 0.14 seconds! Turpiritis crossed the finish line in 1:45.08.
Arkansas’ Brown Notched All-Time 100H Mark
Janeek Brown won the 100H at the 2019 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships in 12.40, narrowly missing the collegiate record and meet record.
Brown Paced Tennessee To 1974 Team Title
Doug Brown won back-to-back steeplechase titles at the NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships in 1973 & 1974. His victory in 1973 was by 17.2 seconds!
EMU’s Jones Hurdled Into NCAA History
Hayes Jones completed the 120H-220H sweep at the 1959 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships. Jones won the last 220H title ever awarded at the meet.
Ellis Sent USC To A Thrilling Victory
Kendall Ellis had a remarkable come-from-behind victory in the 4×400 relay at the 2018 NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships that sent Southern California to the meet title.
Paige Turned Three NCAA Mid-Distance Titles
Don Paige won three career titles at the NCAA DI Outdoor T&F Championships, including a 800-1500 sweep in 1979.