John Thomas, a 1963 graduate of the Boston University School of Education and one of the best high jumpers in American history, passed away at the age of 71 on Jan. 15.
As a 17-year-old freshman at Boston University, Thomas became the first person ever to clear seven feet (2.13m) in the indoor high jump on Jan. 31, 1959. He would later capture the world indoor record, clearing 2.17m at the 1959 National Amateur Athletic Union Championships.
Thomas broke the world outdoor record three times during his career. At the age of 20, he jumped a career-best 2.22m. In each of his four years at BU, Thomas was the NCAA high jump champion. He was also an AAU National Champion seven times.
He qualified for the Olympics twice, in 1960 and 1964. Thomas was the favorite to win the gold medal during the 1960 Rome Olympics, but instead took the bronze medal with a jump of 2.14m, behind Robert Shavlakadze and Valery Brumel of the Soviet Union. In Tokyo in 1964, he tied Brumel with an Olympic-record jump of 2.18m, but had to settle for the silver medal as he missed more of his attempts at lower heights.
Thomas would later be inducted into the BU Hall of Fame in 1968 and the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1985. He cleared the seven-foot barrier 191 times and only lost eight times in his entire career.
A moment of silence was held in honor of John Thomas at a BU track meet on Jan. 17.