(This is part of a special series on Hawkeye Olympic medalists.)
Who is the Hawkeyes’ greatest track athlete ever? You could make a very good case for Ed Gordon, today’s featured Olympic Hawkeye.
Edward Gordon, Jr., was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but he grew up in Gary, Indiana. He always had a thin, wiry frame, so his father suggested that he bulk up by joining the high school track team. Gordon took up hurdling and high jumping, and his talents caught the eye of Iowa track coach George Bresnahan. Bresnahan shifted Gordon’s focus from jumping high to jumping far, converting him into a long jumper.
The conversion worked. As a sophomore in 1929, Ed Gordon won the NCAA title in the long jump. The following year, he did it again, and as a senior in 1931, Gordon pulled off a three-peat. He claimed his third straight NCAA championship in the long jump, becoming the first athlete to win NCAA championships in an event three straight years.
The 1932 Olympics
Gordon actually competed in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. He had just taken up the long jump, and a muscle strain just before the Olympics hampered his performance. Yet despite his inexperience and injury, Ed Gordon managed to place seventh in the world in the event.
Four years and three national championships later, Gordon was ready to give it another try. Bresnahan had guided Gordon for four years, and his guidance continued at the Olympics when Bresnahan was named an assistant U.S. Olympic track coach in charge of overseeing long jumpers.
Gordon wasn’t the favorite in the long jump at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Silvio Cator of Haiti had set the world record in the long jump until it was broken by Chuhei Nanbu of Japan. The long jump event was expected to be a duel between Cator and Nanbu.
But Gordon got the jump on his competition. Each athlete got three attempts, and Gordon’s first jump made him the leader after one round. The runway was torn up from all the jumping in the first round, so before round two, organizers moved the event to another runway. This new runway was actually faster than the previous one, but the athletes had trouble getting their timing right on the new track. Gordon’s leading time continued to hold up…all the way to the gold medal.
Ed Gordon never graduated from Iowa, moving to New York City and taking a job as a city bus driver. He later moved to Detroit and took up classes at Wayne State, finally earning his degree in 1957. Gordon then became a teacher until his death in 1971. His family never located his gold medal; it is presumed to be lost forever.
Gold medals may be lost, but gold medal performances can never be forgotten. The 1932 Olympics were a shining memory for arguably Iowa’s greatest track athlete ever.