Aug. 5, 2008
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - The year was 1936 and Stanley Johnson was an MIT senior on a mission. Competing for an Olympic berth to Berlin against the likes of Jesse Owens (Ohio State), Kermit King (Pittsburg State) and Al Olson (USC), he was the only non-scholarship athlete vying for this honor and privilege.
Although Johnson fell a bit short in the Olympic Trials, his record long jump of 24-2 at MIT still stands. In hot pursuit is Stephen Morton '10, who finished eighth at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Division III Championships with a long jump of 22-3. His personal best at MIT is 23-8, just six inches short of Stan's record.
"The story is a great one for MIT and for collegiate sports in general," says Professor Donald Morrison '61, a member of the top-six long jump club at MIT. "Stanley has done something quite special and we want to celebrate his accomplishment as well as give Stephen Morton the incentive to leap to greater distances before he graduates in 2010."
Stanley was born in Arlington, Mass., and attended the Institute on a bifurcated scholarship funded in part by MIT. Stan's father, an athletic trainer at MIT, only had to pay half tuition for Stan. The remainder was funded by the Rotary Club of Newton Centre (Mass.).
Stan fondly recalls his coaches, the legendary Oscar Hedlund and assistant coach, Bob Bowie. "They told me, and my dad agreed, to always stay in good physical condition." And this he has. As of this writing, he weighs about the same as he did in 1936 when he made that record-setting leap. "Oh, at almost 94, I have some back pain and my knees are not too good, but I really have little to complain about at my age."
Son Steven agrees. His father still lives on his own in Arden, N.C., where Steve visits every six weeks or so. "Dad is great. He loves to talk about some of his competitions and each time I come home, I learn a bit more. His career with US Steel started with an interview where the hiring manager was as interested in his competitive feats as he was in his MIT degree in Metallurgy. Dad stayed with US Steel for nearly 50 years, and always credited his first job to the dedication and ability he had as an athlete."
Stan has some very good company in the top six long jumpers from MIT, most notably current MIT junior Stephen Morton. A mechanical engineering major from Lexington, Ken., Morton is the two-time reigning NEWMAC Athlete of the Year in men's track and field.
"Breaking Stanley Johnson's long jump records would be an honor," remarked Morton. "The fact that they have stood for over 70 years shows how much of an achievement those marks are. I thank him and his family as well as our alumni for their continued support of my career."
In third place on MIT's all-time long jump chart is Professor of Engineering at Georgia Tech, William Singhose '90, who was unarguably the best decathlete that MIT has ever had. A transfer student from the University of Oregon, Singhose broke many records at MIT and was the 1990 CoSIDA/ESPN the Magzine Academic All-America of the Year recipient, but he could never best Johnson's long jump. "I had a chance to break Stanley's record one day out at the Northeastern University track," said Singhose. "There was a massive Nor'easter tailwind blowing that pushed me down the runway faster than I had a right to go. But, I fouled the jump by a couple of inches, so the record lived on, and on."
Following in fourth place is Ravi Sastry '99, a PhD candidate and mentee of Professor Morrison's at the Anderson School of Business at UCLA. Sastry was not only a superb long jumper, but ran the high hurdles, high jumped, and performed in the pentathlon.
In fifth is Kevin Scannell '92. "My fondest MIT memories are of track, of course - I don't remember much about my math classes even though that's what I do every day now," commented Scannell, who currently holds a position as the Director of the Computer Science department at St. Louis University. "Being on the track team allowed me to train and compete with people I had, and still have, a lot of respect for."
"The one specific thing I remember most clearly is the noise and intensity on the indoor track after we went up 16-2 on Northeastern after two events in 1990," continued Scannell. "I jumped a personal record of 23-0 and then Bill (Singhose) came back on the next jump with a PR of 23-1.25. I think JP (John Paul Clarke) had a big throw in the weight too. Of course that's a bittersweet memory since we went on to lose the meet, but everyone came to compete that day."
And recently "jumped out" of fifth is Professor Morrison, who holds the sixth spot in the long jump record books. "When Stephen jumped 23-8, I was so pleased for him...and sorry that I'd lost the fifth spot! But records are made to be broken and it's great to see MIT Track and Field doing such great things. Coach Halston Taylor makes a difference not only in the record books, but in developing the skills that carry our MIT scholar-athletes to the heights of their chosen careers. He is the most recent in a stellar stream of Track coaches at Tech that include my academic/athletic mentor, Art Farnham, and New England Pole Vault Champion, Gordon Kelly."
Of all the memories that Johnson holds dear, none are more vivid than his walks across the Harvard Bridge from the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house. "My sister Astra married the president of the LCA fraternity, so I guess you could say I was a 'brother' to both of them."
Another memory that surfaces is the old wooden track that was located outdoors and had to be shoveled free of snow for winter track meets. "We didn't have a crew that prepped the track. We did it! Then we ran on it...and won on it."
Stanley Johnson is 93 this year and lives contentedly in Ashville, North Carolina. He continues to serve as the greatest long jumper in MIT lore, and recently reminisced about breaking the great Henry Steinbrenner's hurdle record in 1932 as a freshman. "I even met Henry once, as a young man. This is a memorable moment for me, even now."