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Bob Mathias wins second Olympic decathlon

On July 26, 1952, at the XV Olympiad in Helsinki, Finland, American Bob Mathias wins his second straight gold medal in the Olympic decathlon.

Bob Mathias was born on November 17, 1930, in Tulare, California. After a series of boyhood growth spurts left him underweight and anemic, his physician father prescribed for him liver and iron supplements. The regimen worked, and by the time Mathias was 17, he was 6 feet 2 inches tall and 190 pounds. He competed on the track team in high school before trying the decathlon at the request of his coach, who was so green he trained Mathias for the event out of a manual. Just three months before his high school graduation, Mathias competed in his first meet, in Los Angeles, and won, which qualified him for the national championship. To his great surprise, he won that as well, which gave him for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

The decathlon at the 1948 London Olympics took place in miserable cold and rainy conditions. Mathias was forced to huddle under a blanket between events, many of which were delayed by downpours. The lousy weather, however, didn’t stop Mathias: With a score of 7,887, he broke the world record and became the youngest man in Olympic history to medal in a track and field event. “There was no pressure on me the first time because I didn’t know any better,” Mathias would later recall. For his performance, Mathias won the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete.

In 1952, while a senior at Stanford University, Mathias traveled to Finland to defend his title. Despite struggling with a strained thigh muscle and intense media pressure, Mathias managed to beat out American Milton Campbell by more than 900 points, breaking his own world record and becoming the first repeat winner of the decathlon in Olympic history.

Mathias starred in The Bob Mathias Story in 1954 before enrolling in the Marines. Later, he served four terms in Congress as a representative from California. Mathias died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 75.

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