Jess Mortensen was an outstanding athlete and legendary coach in a variety of sports at the same school, the University of Southern California.
Mortensen was a three-sport USC letterman in football, basketball, and track, and he experienced success at the highest levels in each of those sports. He won the 1929 NCAA javelin title, set a world record in the decathlon in 1931, earned All American honors in basketball in 1930, was a member of the 1928 national championship Trojan football team, and played in the 1930 Rose Bowl.
In 1931, Mortensen began his coaching career as a track & field coach at Riverside Junior College. Except for a break during World War II, Mortensen remained at Riverside until 1947. He accepted a coaching position at the University of Denver that year. Under his tutelage, the Pioneers won the 1949 Skyline Conference outdoor championship.
Mortensen accepted the head coaching position at West Point in 1950 and experienced immediate success. Army’s 1950 cross country team won the Heptagonal championships and finished as runners-up at the IC4As under Mortensen’s guidance; Army’s 1951 indoor track & field squad won the IC4A title.
In 1951, Mortensen returned to his alma mater as an assistant football coach and head track coach. From 1951-61, he led Trojan track & field teams to seven national championships and a perfect 64-0 dual meet record. His teams never finished worse than runner-up in a conference meet.
Mortensen coached some of the greatest athletes in the sport, including Olympic Gold Medalists Jerome Biffle, Rex Cawley, Charles Dumas, Sim Iness, Mike Larrabee, Dallas Long, and Parry O’Brien. Many of his athletes were also world record holders, headed by O’Brien and Long, who between them set 12 world outdoor shot put records. He also served as an assistant football coach at USC from 1951 to 1955.
Mortensen also served an assistant coach with the 1956 U.S. Olympic Team. He is honored in several Halls of Fame, including the Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame. , the USC Athletics Hall of Fame, and the USATF Hall of Fame.