Collected Wisdom: Jeff Bennett, 1972 Olympian and Oklahoma Christian associate dean of students
Jeff Bennett is Oklahoma Christian's associate dean of students and an assistant track and field coach at the school.
Forty years ago, he was living the Olympic dream, competing for the U.S. in the decathlon at the 1972 Games in Munich. Bennett narrowly missed winning a medal, finishing a close fourth at those games, which were marred by tragedy when terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
A four-time NAIA All-American and a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame, Bennett still holds the OC records in the 400 hurdles and decathlon.
Vinita was small-town America. I was raised by my grandmother. We were actually on welfare, so we didn't have a whole lot.
Had a lot of good friends and did a lot of running around town. It was back in a time when on a summer day you could get up in the morning and go out in the woods and just kind of squirrel around and they didn't have to worry about you.
Didn't go a lot of places, but as I recall, it was a pretty decent childhood growing up in a small town.
My relationship with my grandmother was very good. She took the best care of us that she could. She never got to see me run, her health wasn't too good. But she was very supportive.
I remember watching the 1960 Olympics and they had a couple of people pole vaulting. So I decided I wanted to be a pole vaulter. Being the industrious kids that we were, we got an old mattress somebody had discarded for a pit. Got some two-by-fours and put nails in them for standards and stuck them in the ground for the box. And we got a piece of antenna pole that was 6- or 7-feet long and started jumping out on the side of the house.
In the ninth grade, I went out for track and became our pole vaulter. Along the way, I learned how to hurdle and long jump. And that's kind of how it started.
When I got to college at Oklahoma Christian, I was one of those busy guys who before practice, I was throwing the shot put or doing something. When I got through with my workout, I might be over trying to high jump or checking on the discus or just kind of piddling.
Coach Ray Vaughn Sr., who was my coach, noticed that I gravitated to all the different events. He suggested that if I'd like to, there was actually an event, decathlon, where I could do all those things. I was all for it. It worked out, that's all I can say.
I graduated from college, got a job teaching in Midwest City, and two weeks in I was drafted into the Army in 1970.
When I got drafted, I was thinking Vietnam. But I knew they had an Army track team. And I knew they looked for athletes that were on a national level. Since I had won the NAIA decathlon twice, I figured I would be picked up on that team, once they got the information.
It ended up being a blessing. I was going to have to try to teach school, try to work out, pay my way to meets that were out on the West Coast or whatever. So the Army became my vehicle for all of that.
Once I decided to pursue the Olympics back in 1968, my goal was to make the team. But once I saw the scores, I was in already in position, I just wanted to get on the medal stand. That was my Olympic goal.
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