Dallas Long, who was born in Pine Bluff, held world records in the shot put and won two Olympic medals in the 1960s. (Photo courtesy U.S. Olympic Committee)
Dallas Long probably is not even the most recognizable athlete to ever reside in Whitefish, Mont. Other former residents include former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe and NBA Hall of Famer Phil Jackson.
Long’s accolades match up with Jackson’s, though, even if his name is not as memorable. The 1964 Olympic gold medalist in the shot put is not one to put his name up against Jackson. His accomplishments put him up against Jackson and Bledsoe, though.
Besides his gold medal, the Pine Bluff native came home with the bronze medal in 1960 Olympics. He won three NCAA titles at the University of Southern California. Long also broke the world record in the shot put seven times, and three of the times, the record he broke was his own. A 67-foot, 10-inch throw was his best, and that came during the Olympic trials on July 25, 1964.
“It was the pinnacle of success at those times,” Long said in a phone interview with the Pine Bluff Commercial. “The Olympic champion got their picture on a Wheaties box, and you would do it and get on with it. You would do it a second time if you could.”
Long was one of the lucky ones who got to compete in the Olympics twice.
Long, now 72, lives in Whitefish with his second wife, Suzi. He moved there a few years ago when he retired. Long spent more than 30 years as an emergency medical doctor.
Whitefish, with a population of 8,400, is probably the last stop for Long after living all over the country during his 72 years.
The town is just west of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains and is about 60 miles from the Canadian border. Long lived in California for more than 30 years, so the Montana winters get a little harsh for him.
“The weather here is hard to take in the winter,” Long said. “The rest of the year is quite nice in the spring, summer. It’s warm and beautiful in the summer.”
Long was born in Pine Bluff and his family moved from place to place early on in his childhood, so he does not remember much at all of his time there. Long said his mother was born in Wynne and grew up around Paragould.
Long said his family moved to Oklahoma City before relocating to Memphis during World War II. When he was 6 years old, Long’s family moved to Phoenix, which is where the family rooted and Long grew up.
Long said he still has many family members who now live in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
“I was the one that escaped,” Long said.
Little did he know, but moving to Phoenix would be one of the best things for his shot put career. Long attended North Phoenix High School and he was a football player and a track athlete.
Long’s shot put coach in high school was Vern Wolfe, who would later be inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame. Wolfe and Long were both inducted in 1996.
Wolfe coached three high school record holders with Long being one of them. When Long was a senior, he broke the record with a throw of 69-3. That distance is still an Arizona high school record. The next closest mark is 62-9 by Chris Mammen in 1995.
Long was confident he had a career throwing a shot put after that.
“I had the record in the shot put, and that’s when I decided that I could do it,” he said.
It was almost a two-for-one deal for USC. Not only did the school get Long to throw the shot put there, but Wolfe also became a coach for the Trojans.
“I did a lot of weightlifting, and it was a big part of training,” Long said. “The other was getting the technique down and practicing your moves.”
The combination worked wonders in high school, and it did not slow down once the pair arrived at USC.
With help from Wolfe, Long had an immediate impact not only at USC but also the world. On March 28, 1959, Long had a throw of 63-1.87, which became the new world record.
American Parry O’Brien, who held the record from 1953 until Long broke it, regained his spot as the world record holder almost five months later with a toss of 63-3.84.
Of course, Long had his throw of 69-3 in high school, but it did not qualify as a world record since it was in high school. So it was only a matter of time before Long would break the record again, and he did.
That was the last time O’Brien would hold the record. It did take Long until March 5, 1960, to set the world record with a toss of 63-6.99.
It was a back-and-forth for the world record, though, over the next month. Fourteen days later, American Bill Nieder’s throw of 63-9.74 became the new mark. Then just seven days later, Long had a throw of 64-6.4. The battle between Long and Nieder continued as Neider broke the record seven days later with a throw of 65-7.
Nieder’s record was surpassed before the 1960 Olympics in Rome, but it was by Nieder himself. On August 12, 1960, he had a world record again with a throw of 65-9.76.
Long had still earned himself a trip to the 1960 Olympics. The other two Americans who went to Rome were familiar names, too. Team USA had the last three record holders with Long, Nieder and O’Brien.
Nieder had the world record, but it was Long that won the Olympic trials in Palo Alto, Calif.
The Americans went on to sweep the shot put event in Rome, but was not Long at the top of the podium like it was at the trials. Nieder placed first with a throw of 64-6.8, O’Brien followed with a distance of 62-8.36. Long was able to win bronze with a throw of 62-4.42.
While Long’s throw was below standards for him, it was impressive considering he got sick a couple of weeks before competing in the event.
“We were in Switzerland and I got sick there before getting to Rome,” Long said. “I ate a piece of fruit that hadn’t been cleaned and that’s where I got it. I was vomiting and had diarrhea all night. In Switzerland, you could eat off the streets, they were so clean.”
Long does not know where he would have finish had he been healthy.
“I was a little disappointed, but that’s the way it goes,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to come back and do it a second time.”
The 1960 Olympics may not have ended with Long leaving with a gold medal, but it was still quite an experience for him. Looking back, his most memorable thought was not even winning bronze.
For Long, it was about the people he met.
“Looking back, you didn’t know who was who at that time,” he said. “I flew over with the basketball teams and I was with Pete Newell, who was the coach at Cal and I knew who he was because I was an undergraduate at USC.
“But I was on the plane with the USA basketball team, but I didn’t know them. It was Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West on the plane. Lucas liked to memorize things and he was memorizing the New York City telephone book.”
All three would later be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. One of the more memorable athletes Long saw in Rome was Muhammad Ali, who had not changed his name yet and was still Cassius Clay.
“He wore his gold medal everywhere and was a real jerk it seemed,” he said. “Thought he wasn’t going to amount to anything. Looking back, it was interesting to see who you met and who they became, because you wouldn’t know.”
Nieder held on to the world record for more than a year before Long was able to break it again. When he did, the record was all his for the next two years.
On May 18, 1962, Long broke Nieder’s record with a throw of 65-10.55. However, Long did not beat his own record again until April 4, 1964 with a throw of 65-11.33. Long would twice more beat his record, the last time coming during the Olympic trials on July 25, 1964. He shattered his record with a throw of 67-10.17.
“I threw the new world record and I was feeling fine,” said Long about heading into the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Long was able to qualify even though he was going through the rigors of dental school. He was a junior at the time.
“It took some extra effort, but it was doable,” he said.
This time, Long did not get sick and had the best throw in the three throws of qualification. Then in his first throw in the finals, Long had a distance of 66-8.39, which would win him the gold medal.
Long was able to stand at the top of the podium and have the National Anthem played as he received his gold medal.
“The experience of winning was quite remarkable,” he said. “I broke the world record several times, but only one time I got to stand on top at the Olympic Games. It’s quite dramatic and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Long did not get his Wheaties box, though.
“No, I don’t know that any of us did,” Long joked. “You got back to what you were doing after, and it was a little different. You got your name in the paper and you go on with your life.”
That is what Long has done. He has four kids — Kelly, Kristen, Ian and Karin. Even though he did go on with his life as an emergency medical doctor, the memory of his Olympic experience still sits in his house.
“My mother, God bless her soul, she took the medals to a jewelry place and mounted them on purple velvet,” Long said. “I had them framed and I have them in my study.”
Those medals forever etch Long’s name in Olympic history.