50 years since Olympic gold for Peachtree City's Ralph Boston

Fifty years ago Thursday, 21-year-old Ralph Boston won the long jump in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and joined track and field royalty. Earlier that year, he had broken Jesse Owens' 25-year-old world record. Boston dominated the event for the better part of the next decade, winning four national championships, two more Olympic medals and setting the world record six times between 1960 and 1965.

Born and reared in Mississippi, Boston went on to professional success, ultimately co-owning a Knoxville TV station. He moved to Atlanta in the mid-90's and has lived in Peachtree City, feeding his golf habit, since 1997. Boston, 71 and a great-grandfather, spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his golden moment and its impact on his life. Answers were edited for length.

Q: When you think about that day, what is the first thing you think about?

A: I was in school and in the Olympics with a lady named Wilma Rudolph. We won our gold medals about 15 minutes apart. As she crossed the finish line, I remember, to win the 100 meters, she turned and walked back. The pit was here and the finish line was here. (Boston indicated the close proximity.) I said, ‘Hey, way to go, Babes.' She said, ‘How're you doing?' And I said, ‘I'm leading.' I remember that.

You think about how close the competition was. I won by one centimeter. Three-eighths of an inch. That was a day that I guess ‘changed my life' is a good phrase. Appropriate. You think about how a life has changed and how life changed and how things have happened since then.

Q: How would your life had been different if you hadn't won?

A: First of all, I would not have been champion, and the champion gets to do things. He gets asked to do things. I wouldn't have been asked so much. Even though at that point I was world-record holder, I don't think I would have been quite as marketable. Not that we made money.

I took silver in the next Olympics, and it was really interesting. In Rome when I won, I must have gotten a stack of telegrams like this. [Boston held his palms about three inches apart.] And in Tokyo [in 1964], when I got silver, the only people that made contact, the only contact I had was from my mother, my family. Nobody else said a word. But everybody was on the bandwagon when you won.

Q: The 1960 Olympics are remembered as one of the more important in history for athletic, social and political reasons. Were you at all aware of that as it happened?

A: Not really. I was more caught up in the things that I thought would make you go ga-ga. Like Bing Crosby walking through the Olympic Village. Cassius Clay [later Muhammad Ali] winning a gold medal and always walking around with his medal [in the village]. Wilma [winning three golds] and all of that.

But I think I was caught up in those kinds of things. Nothing that changed the world. I just had a really good time.

Q: Your winning jump in Rome (26 feet, 7 3/4 inches) would have placed seventh at the 2008 Olympics. What does that say?

A: I'm not sure. I hadn't given it any thought. They haven't improved as much as I thought. Or that I was better than I thought. I like that one better.

Q: What memories do you have of Bob Beamon's world-record jump in 1968 in Mexico City?

A: I remember sitting at the head of the runway with the reigning Olympic champion, who had beaten me in Tokyo, and I said, ‘Watch this guy.' He started sprinting. I said, ‘Watch him miss his step.' Because he'd always had step problems. He didn't miss a step, and when he hit the pit, there was a roar. Whooooaaaa!

Q: Have you ever felt like you had to live up to the gold?

A: Hmm. Interesting question. I don't know. I certainly think that it's something I wanted to use to make a point to younger people, so I guess in that sense, yes, you have to live up to it, but beyond that, I'm not sure. I don't think so.