A phenomenal athlete at the University of Georgia who revolutionized the 110m hurdles, Forrest “Spec” Towns coached Bulldog athletes to 29 individual Southeastern Conference (SEC) titles from 1938 to 1975.
Towns’s career in athletics began differently than most. In high school, Towns played only one sport, football. Several years after his high school graduation, and neighbor witnessed Towns high jumping in his backyard at (reportedly) “world record height.” Hearing of the feat, Georgia head track & field coach Herman J. Stegeman quickly offered Towns a scholarship in 1933. Under Georgia assistant coach and USTFCCCA Hall of Famer “Weems” Baskin, Towns developed from an aspiring high jumper into the greatest high hurdler in the world.
Towns won the 1934 Southeastern AAU 120 yard hurdles title, and then followed that up in 1935 with the NCAA and National AAU titles. In 1936, he won the NCAA hurdles title in a world record of 14.1 seconds and won an Olympic Gold Medal later that summer at the Berlin Olympics. Three weeks later, Towns lowered the record to an unbelievable 13.7 seconds, a record that would not be matched for 14 years. From 1935-37, Towns won a string of over 60 consecutive hurdle races and also set the world record in the indoor 60 yard hurdles. Towns capped his career by beating a horse in a 120 yard hurdles race in 1927.
When Baskin left Georgia in 1938, the newly-retired Towns was the perfect choice as the Bulldogs new head track & field coach. Towns’s individual athletes won 24 SEC outdoor titles and five SEC indoor titles during his tenure. Among the athletes Towns coached were All Americans Kent Lawrence and Bill Duckworth. The Bulldogs as a team finished as SEC runners-up at the 1940 SEC outdoor championships. However, Towns’s initial success was interrupted by the outbreak of war, as Towns joined the U.S. Army during World War II. Following his service, he returned to Georgia, where he continued to coach until 1975.
Towns is remembered at UGA with the Spec Towns Track, and the annually held Spec Towns invitational. He is recognized in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Georgia Circle of Honor, and the USATF Hall of Fame.