U.S. teammates Jack Davis and Harrison Dillard were locked in a close race in the final of the 110-meter hurdles at the Helsinki Olympics in July 1952 when Davis, who was barely ahead, banged into the ninth barrier and lost his slim lead. At the finish line, the sprinters were clocked at an identical 13.7 seconds, a new Olympic record. But a photo finish showed Dillard first by an eyelash.
Four years later, Davis lined up in the starting blocks of the same event at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. This time, he held the world record in the 110-meter hurdles, having recently clocked 13.4 seconds. Davis and another American, Lee Calhoun, streamed to the finish line neck and neck, both timed at 13.5 seconds, another Olympic record. But Calhoun leaned perceptibly forward at the tape, winning the gold medal.
Davis was crushed, forced to settle for another silver medal.
Many years later, in an oral history interview with the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, Davis called the Olympic outcome a "real good life experience. I realized that I could not call every shot. There are some things which were out of my control."
The world-class sprinter from Glendale's Hoover High School and
Davis, 81, died Friday at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego of complications from a fall, his family said.
Jack Wells Davis was born Sept. 11, 1930, in Amarillo, Texas, to Forrest E. Davis and Maude V. Wells. His family moved to California when he was a child and eventually settled in Glendale. Both parents had jobs at a grocery store chain before working in the defense industry.
At Hoover, Davis was a champion hurdler and long jumper. He also played football and was elected student body president. He concentrated on track at USC and earned varsity letters in 1951, '52 and '53. The Trojans won the NCAA title all three years, and Davis became a three-time champion in the 120-yard hurdles, as well as the 220-yard hurdles champion in 1953.
The lanky, 6-foot-3 sprinter set the world record of 13.4 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles in June 1956 at the national Amateur Athletic Union track and field championships in Bakersfield. In the 1950s, he was ranked No. 1 in the world six times in the hurdles.
Davis graduated from USC in 1953 with a degree in education and served in the Navy from 1954 to 1957. After the Olympics he competed while touring with U.S. athletes on a goodwill ambassador trip sponsored by the State Department.
When his track career ended, he became a real estate developer in San Diego and Park City, Utah. Davis also helped found the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.
Davis, who was divorced from his first wife, is survived by his wife of 19 years, Carol; daughters Jackie D. Gray of Petoskey, Mich., and Tracy D. Sinnott of San Diego; son Trent W. Davis of Park City; six grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren.