Olympians Put San Jose on World Map

During the 1948 Summer Olympics, William Samuel "Willie" Steele leapt not only to a gold medal in the long jump but also into San Jose history books - the first San Jose State alumnus and the first athlete from the city to win an Olympic medal.  Thirteen San Jose Olympians have since followed in his medal-winning footsteps.
Gold medal winners include two-time winner Lee Evans (1968 track and field), Chuck Adkins (1952 boxing), Ronnie Ray Smith (1968 track and field), Tommie Smith (1968 track and field), and Jill Sudduth (1996 synchronized swimming), Mitch Ivey (1968, 1972 swimming), John Powell (1976, 1984 track and field), and Lynn Vidali (1968, 1972 swimming) were two-time Olympic winners and brought home silver and/or bronze medals to San Jose.

On October 17th, 1968, two San Jose State athletes gained world-wide attention at the Mexico Olympics.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos won the gold and bronze medals for the 200 meters sprint, but it was not their performances that made the moment memorable. During the medals presentation and as the U.S. National Anthem played, Smith and Carlos staged a silent protest against racial discrimination in the United States. They wore black socks with no shoes, a black glove which they raised in the air, and Smith wore a black scarf around his neck.

Another SJSU Olympics icon was Julie Menendez, who made history as the only person in the world to coach two Olympic sports. The boxing and soccer coach at San Jose State, Menendez coached boxing in the 1960 games where one of his medal winners was none other than Cassius Clay – later known as Muhammad Ali. Menendez was also head coach of the U.S. soccer team in the 1976 Olympics.

Although not from San Jose, the 1976 Montreal Olympic decathlon winner, Bruce Jenner, left a lasting mark on the city. He trained here to prepare for the ’76 Olympics and in 1982 established the internationally-prestigious Bruce Jenner Classic track and field competition held annually in San Jose for over a decade.


hot and happening