Alma Richards, as an unsung high school student, surprisingly set an Olympic record for the high jump in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. He was the only native Utahn and member of the LDS church to win an Olympic gold medal in the twentieth century. After a stellar collegiate track career that saw him lead Cornell to three national championships, Richards for two decades reigned as America’s most accomplished multiple-event track and field athlete, winning national titles in five different events. Despite his prominence in the history of American sports, this is the first treatment of his athletic career and personal life.
The book traces Richards from his boyhood in rural Parowan, Utah, to Cornell and through his service as an officer in World War I and his teaching career in Los Angeles. His story is that of a remarkable athlete, but also that of a man struggling for personal fulfillment while endeavoring to retain his Mormon heritage amid his changing religious circumstances and participation. More than a century has passed since Alma Richards won an Olympic gold medal, yet this story about man and sport—the drive to excel, victory as validation of hard work, the quest for public recognition and, ultimately, the achievement of self-identity and self-satisfaction—still resonates today.
Larry Gerlach is professor emeritus of history at the University of Utah. His numerous books and articles include Blazing Crosses in Zion: The Ku Klux Klan in Utah and The Men in Blue: Conversations With Umpires.