Over the years many UTEP athletes have competed in the Olympics, particularly in track and field events. Notable UTEP Olympians include: Jim “Bad News” Barnes who played center on the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s basketball squad at the 1964 games in Tokyo; Bob Beamon who won a gold medal and set a world record for the long jump at the 1968 games in Mexico City (see above photo); Jim Forbes who played on the U.S. men’s basketball team that refused its silver medals after allegedly biased Cold-War era judging decisions during the final basketball game of the 1972 Munich games; Suleiman Nyambui who won a silver medal in the 5000 meters race at the 1980 games in Moscow, and Olapade Adeniken who won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. In 2000 Obadele Thompson, who graduated with honors in marketing and economics from UTEP, became the first person from Barbados to win an individual medal after securing the bronze medal in the men’s 100 meter race. More recently, Blessing Okagbare, Churandy Martina, Oludamola Osayom, Erma-Gene Evans, Mickael Hanany, and several other UTEP athletes participated in the 2008 summer games in Beijing. At the 2012 games in London, six former UTEP Miners will take part in the games, including Kelly Parker who will play for the Canadian women’s soccer team. While several UTEP athletes represented the United States in the Olympics, many, like Parker, represented their home countries. For example, Hanany competed for France and Okagbare for Nigeria, while UTEP shot putters Hans Hoglund and Hans Almstrom represented Sweden during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
In addition to UTEP student-athletes, UTEP coaches participated in the Olympics – or at least tried to. Don Haskins served as assistant coach to the 1972 U.S. men’s basketball Olympic squad, and was one of several coaches chosen for the Olympic Development Team in 1971. Ted McLaughlin, an assistant track and field coach, traveled from El Paso to Montreal for the 1976 games to observe Hoglund and Almstrom, who he had coached at UTEP the previous year. Unfortunately, McLaughlin was refused entrance to the Olympic Village and the practice field due to tight security after the murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich games by Palestinian terrorists. He returned to El Paso to watch the Olympic Games “on television.”
The Olympics were predominantly an important and positive event for UTEP athletes and the university. In 1964 Haskins commented on Barnes’s participation: “It’s a big honor to Texas Western to have Barnes on the Olympic squad. It’s one of the finest things, in fact, to happen to the school. It’ll be a big help to Texas Western basketball recruiting and will help us a lot in other ways.” Beamon also viewed his Olympic success and participation as constructive. In the September 1978 issue of Nova magazine, he discussed the 1968 Olympic boycott by some African Americans and his refusal to take part in it. He stated that “I had to prove to myself first and then to the world that I was one of the best long jumpers in the world and to get that gold medal. When athletes win that medal, lots of doors start opening up. I wanted those things to happen to me.” Ironically, Beamon, along with other black track team members, were removed from the UTEP track team for refusing to compete in a meet right after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968. After losing their athletic scholarships, Beamon and his former teammates started the Disassociated Student Fund to help each other financially. Soon after, Beamon transferred to Adelphi University in New York, and following his graduation, worked in public relations in San Diego and later as a track and field coach at United States International University.
For more information about UTEP athletics, please visit Special Collections on the 6th floor of the UTEP Library.
[Sources: Nova, September 1978; Nova Summer 1996; The Flowsheet 1964, 1968; El Paso Times; El Paso Herald-Post, “UTEP Miners,” “Obadele Thompson,” Wikipedia; Don Haskins and Ray Sanchez, Haskins: The Bear Facts]
Abbie Weiser is the processing archivist at the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. She earned a BA in history from George Washington University, a MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin, and a MA in history from UTEP. She is certified by the Academy of Certified Archivists.