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Ralph Boston: The First Person to Break the 27 Feet Barrier in the Long Jump

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Ralph Boston represented the United States in track & field. He recorded the long-jump world record at the 1960 Olympic Games, winning a gold medal. Overall, he finished his career with three medals, having won the other two at the Pan American Games. 

Boston was also one of the athletes who participated in the 1968 ‘Black Power Salute during the Olympics. His career was short-lived but his impact lives long. We reflect on his career.

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Ralph Boston’s Career

spotcovery-Ralph Boston, Tokyo 1964
Ralph Boston, Tokyo 1964. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain

Boston is a Mississippi native. He studied at Oak Park High School, where he participated in the hurdles and set a record. Later, he joined the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College, currently the Tennessee State University. Boston went on with his imperious performances and won the long-jump title in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 

At the 1960 Olympics, he broke Jesse Owens’s record of 26 feet or 8 ¼ inches after leaping to 26 feet, 11 ¼ inches. The following year, Boston was the first to jump past 27 feet in California. 

In the subsequent years, he was the leading long jumper in the world. His closest competitor was Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, who defeated him on a couple of occasions, including his last record improvement. 

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Training the Next Long Jump Champion

In 1967, Boston lost the national title. Nonetheless, he picked up one of the most promising players, Bob Beamon and trained him. 

His decision was inspired by the fact that the University of Texas El Paso suspended him for not competing against another university which he insisted had racist policies. 

At the 1968 National Championship, Beamon took home the title and during the Olympics that year, broke his master’s record. Both competed against one another and Beamon beat Boston after which he retired.

After retirement, Boston worked with ESPN and CBS. He also worked at the University of Tennessee as an assistant dean and coordinator for minority affairs. 

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In 1974, he was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and in 1985 into the  U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. 

In 1993, the University of Tennessee named its Spring track event and the wellness center after him. 

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Civil Rights Protest

Just like modern-day athletes, Ralph Boston used his platform to express support for black people around the world. He stood at the podium barefoot and raised his fist. A history professor at Grand Valley State University Louis Moore describes him as cautious.

“Boston was an elite athlete but his impact is overlooked because he wasn’t bold. He was calculating and careful with how he integrated sport and politics. He wasn’t against boycotts. He supported Beamon because of it but also knew that sport was a way for Black Americans to find their place in society,” Moore told Andscape.

Ralph Boston died in April 2023. Nonetheless, his legacy and achievements in long jump and political activism will always be remembered.   

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