Olympian, Hoover High grad Jack Davis dies at 81

Jack Davis, who earned a pair of Olympic silver medals and played a significant role in shaping the track and field landscape in Glendale, has died. He was 81.

Davis, a Hoover High and USC graduate, died July 20 in San Diego. The Los Angeles Times reported that Davis, who captured the silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles in the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympic Games, died from complications of a fall.

Davis was born Sept. 11, 1930 in Amarillo, Texas. Davis' family moved to Glendale, where he gained an affinity for track and field. He excelled at Hoover and then at USC, where he would go on to become a three-time NCAA champion in the 120-yard hurdle event and captured a 220-yard crown. Davis was named Glendale's 15th greatest sports figure of the 20th century by the Glendale News-Press in 1999 and in 2004 was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Sam Nicholson was a teammate of Davis' at Hoover and recalled making a suggestion to Davis, who graduated from Hoover in 1949 and enjoyed a career in real estate development in San Diego, to be a hurdler. Davis, who also competed in the long jump, took Nicholson's idea to heart and proceeded to make a name for himself. In 1949, Davis captured the CIF Southern Section 120-yard high hurdles (now 110 meter) in 14.5 seconds. He then recorded a first-place finish in the same race in 14.4 to win the state title.

"I told him that with his height and speed, he should run the hurdles and that he'd be great at it," said Nicholson, a La Crescenta resident who graduated from Hoover in 1949 and built a rapport with Davis that spanned more than 60 years. "He was the perfect teammate and he's a credit to the sport of track and field and athletics in general.

"He led a good, clean life. He was a marvelous competitor. If he lost a race, he would be the first to go over to the winner and offer his congratulations."

At USC, Davis continued to focus on track and earned varsity letters between 1951-53. USC developed a dynastic reign, which included winning an NCAA championship from 1951-53. He won three titles in the 120-yard hurdles and took the 220-yard hurdle championship in 1953, when he served as the Trojans' team captain.

Frank Flores, who was a teammate of Davis' at USC for three seasons, said Davis instilled class on and off the track.

"He was such a great friend and he always had that tremendous drive," said Flores, who was USC's captain in 1952. "He did a lot for USC and the sport itself.

"It's a tremendous loss. You couldn't find anybody better than Jack."

Davis was inducted into USC's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001 and into the USC-UCLA Track Meet Hall of Fame in 2011. Davis held the world record of 13.4 in the 110 hurdles from June 22, 1956 to July 7, 1959 when Martin Lauer of Germany ran 13.2.

It was in the 1950s when Davis made a name for himself nationally and internationally. Davis participated in the Olympics in 1952 in Helsinki and the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

In the 110-meter hurdles in Helsinki, Davis and U.S. teammate Harrison Dillard were involved in a tight race. Davis, who held a slight lead, hit the ninth barrier and lost his lead. Davis and Dillard each reached the finish line in a then-record 13.7 seconds. However, a photo finish showed Dillard had won by a nose. Automatic timing did not become available until the 1968 Olympics in Mexico.

In the same event in the 1956 Olympics, Davis came in with momentum after recently setting a world record in the race in 13.4. Davis and fellow American Lee Calhoun streaked to the finish line with both clocking 13.5, which became another Olympic record. Calhoun leaned noticeably forward at the tape to win the gold medal.

"I'll never forget those races, especially the one with Dillard," said Nicholson, who served as Hoover High's track and field coach from 1956-64. "He said those were the two biggest disappointments.

"He was so close. He lost two races by a total of one foot. He did so much, though. He once told me that if you lose, then you learn something from it. That's the way he was. He was very positive and never critical."

Flores said while Davis was crushed after recording the second-place performances, he managed to come to terms with his still-impressive accomplishments.

"We had lunch together a couple of years ago and he told me he'd gotten over the fact that he lost those two close races," Flores said. "That says something about him right there."

Davis helped found the United States Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

According to the Times, 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.

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