Winner of the decathlon
at the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics
; one of only two athletes to ever win consecutive Olympic decathlons.
Mathias (DOB: 11/17/1930, Tulare, California) played basketball and football, in addition to competing in track and field in high school. He won his first ever decathlon in the spring of 1948, and in June was the shock winner of the National AAU decathlon, which at that time also served as the Olympic Trials.
At the time, just 17 years old, Mathias was off to London and the 1948 Summer Olympics. There, he shocked the world by winning the decathlon in horrible conditions (rain, cold, and darkness).
Mathias won the 1948 James E. Sullivan Memorial Award as greatest American amateur athlete. He attended Stanford and in addition to his track exploits, he was the fullback on their football team that went to the Rose Bowl in January 1952.
Later that year, Mathias cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Olympic athletes by winning the 1952 Olympic decathlon in Helsinki, Finland, and setting a world record in the process. He became the first to become repeat champion in the Olympic decathlon (Daley Thompson of Great Britain repeated the feat in 1980 and 1984). Mathias won the 1952 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year award for his performance.
Mathias later served 4 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives in the '60s and '70s and also acted in a movie based on his life.
In 1999, ESPN's SportsCentury selected Mathias as #78 on their list of the top 100 North American athletes of the 20th century. One has to think that if his feats occurred 30-40 years later, he would've been ranked higher.