WESSLER COLUMN


f I asked you to name the greatest Bradley University athlete of all time, I’m betting Hawkins, Walker and Melchiorre would top a hoops-heavy list. Maybe Puckett would roll in from the baseball diamond, or Jacobs from the old football days.


Just wondering today how long I’d have to wait before seeing the name Redd.


 


The Games of the X Summer Olympiad commenced 75 years ago this week in Los Angeles.


 


These were the Games of Babe Didrikson, who qualified in five events, was allowed to compete in only three, boasted that "I’m out to beat everyone in sight," won the 80-meter hurdles and javelin and had her gold-medal-worthy high jump declared illegal.


 


They were the Games of the first Olympic Village for athletes, the first photo-finish camera and the advent of automatic timing devices on the track.


 


And they were the Games of Charles Lambert "Pat" Redd, whose silver medal in the broad jump remains the only individual Olympic medal won by a Bradley athlete.


 


To look at Redd in uniform, posing for the 1932 Bradley Tech team picture, is to see a man among boys, an athlete clearly ahead of his time. His arms and legs ripple, in stark contrast to the soft and undefined musculature of his teammates. Redd’s shoulders, biceps, quads and calves are what today we call "cut."


 


"If you look at that picture and say, ‘Pick the Olympian,’ he’s the guy you’d pick," says Craig Dahlquist, former Braves track coach and now associate athletics director. "He looks like a kid today who’s been working out with Ronnie Wright (the BU strength coach)."


 


Redd arrived in Peoria as something of a prodigy. According to a 1932 report in the Peoria Journal, he had qualified as a high school boy for the 1928 U.S. Olympic team in the hop, step and jump, which later would be renamed the triple jump. But an unspecified, last-minute injury kept him home from Amsterdam.


 


At Bradley, he continued to excel, and in the spring of 1932, he won NCAA championships in the broad jump (now long jump) and the hop, step and jump. He set school records in both, and the broad jump mark stands to this day.


 


A cynic might remind us that Bradley men have not competed in field events since 1992. So here’s some better context in which to consider Redd’s greatness, 75 years after his career peak:


 


His BU long jump record of 25 feet, 6



3/8 inches would have won every single Missouri Valley Conference championship to this day, save three. Stepping up a level, that mark would have won three of the last 10 Big Ten titles, most recently in 2006. The 24-111/4 that earned Redd Olympic silver in 1932 would have medaled in every subsequent Olympics until 1960 and would have been golden in 1952.3/4, a mere inch and one-half ahead of Redd. The world record-holder Nambu took bronze.

 


KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3216 or e-mail kwessler@pjstar.com.



 


A.J. Robertson, the legendary Bradley multi-sport coach and athletics director, and track coach Cecil Hewitt accompanied Redd to Los Angeles. Robertson, in fact, filed by-lined dispatches for the Peoria Journal.


 


"Redd is given a good chance to win or place high in the event," Robertson wrote in his story published Aug. 2, the day of the broad jump. The athlete had developed "recent lameness in his shoulder," but that was not expected to hinder his jumping, Robertson reported.


 


As the reigning national collegiate champion Redd was considered one of the favorites. In fact, Robertson wrote, Dick Barber of the University of Southern California and Sylvio Cator of Haiti believed Redd was the "man to beat." But this was a tough field, which included Iowa’s Ed Gordon, who had won the previous two NCAA titles and world record-holder Chuhei Nambu of Japan, in addition to Barber and Cator.


 


On the day of the competition, Robertson reported, "an unusual percentage of all jumps were declared fouls." Every jumper suffered, particularly Cator, who didn’t get off a single measurable jump in the prelims.


 


For the finals, the competition was moved to another jumping pit, where wet conditions further hampered the athletes. None of the six finalists improved on his qualifying mark, though Redd came close.


 


The Bradley man soared 25-6 on his first jump in the finals, but that was ruled a foul. He came back with the best jump of the day — 26-1. But, Robertson reported, "considerable debate followed among the officials, who at length declared it a foul."


And so the gold medal went to Gordon, who had gone 25-


 


Little more is known of Redd. He hailed from Grafton. He did not finish his college career at Bradley, transferring to Quincy College for reasons unknown to the public record. He enjoyed a career in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and later worked in the private sector, including 17 years for the Owens-Illinois Glass Company. He died in 1986 and is buried in Jersey County.


 


And that’s what we know of a man who might be the greatest Bradley athlete of all time.