Ralph Herald Boston broke the last track and field record owned by the great Jesse Owens.
Born in Laurel, Mississippi on May 9, 1939, he was the youngest of 10 children and an excellent all-around athlete. He attended Tennessee State University, where he studied biochemistry and competed in sprints, high hurdles, triple jump, high jump and long jump. His specialty was the long jump, an event he excelled in at an international level for over eight years. He won the 1960 NCAA title and in August of that year broke Owens’ record in a meet at Mount San Antonio College in California with a jump of 26’, 11 ¼ “. The record had stood for 25 years and Boston eclipsed it by 3 inches. He qualified for the Summer Olympics in Rome and a few weeks later won the gold medal, edging out American teammate Bo Roberson by a mere centimeter and setting a new Olympic record of 8.12 meters [26’, 7 ½”] in the process.
He became the first man to jump over 27 feet in 1961 and bettered the record twice that year in route to being named Track & Field Athlete of the Year. In 1962, he lost the record to Soviet Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, his fiercest rival. Boston tied that mark in August of 1964 and broke it one month later. He won a silver medal in the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo and in May of 1965 set a new world record of 27’, 4 ¾”, a mark that stood for nearly 3 and a half years. In all, he set or tied the world long jump record six times. At 29 years old, he qualified for his third Olympic team and competed in the 1968 Games in Mexico City, where he won a bronze medal after Bob Beamon, his teammate and pupil, shattered his world record by nearly two feet in one of the most remarkable Olympic performances of all time. Boston retired from Track & Field following that meet and became an analyst for ABC Sports.
Boston won six consecutive AAU long jump titles during his career and won gold medals in the Pan Am Games in 1963 and 1967. He was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1960-67 and was one of eight current and former Olympians chosen to raise the Olympic Flag at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Mr. Boston was elected to the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1985. He served as assistant dean of students at University of Tennessee and is currently a business executive in Georgia.