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Olympic Long Jump Gold Medalist Arnie Robinson Passes Away at 72

By Todd Kortemeier | Dec. 02, 2020, 12:05 p.m. (ET)

Arnie Robinson Jr. won gold in men's long jump at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976.

 

Arnie Robinson Jr., who won a gold medal in long jump at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976, has died at the age of 72.

Robinson was a hero in his hometown of San Diego, not only for his Olympic success but for the impact he had on the community over his entire life.

“Arnie Robinson was, ‘Mister San Diego,’” said Tonie Campbell, a close friend of Robinson and medalist in 110-meter hurdles at the 1988 Seoul Games. “When people say a person was loved by many, perhaps no one quite fit this description more than Arnie. Arnie truly gave his all to his friends, athletes, co-workers and teammates. He was responsible for so many career starts including my own. He was my mentor and my friend.”

Robinson started his path to the Olympic Games in the driveway of his childhood home in the Paradise Hills neighborhood of southeastern San Diego, using old mattresses to cushion his early long jump landings. Robinson became one of the most decorated athletes in his city’s history. He was a standout athlete first at Morse High School, then at San Diego Mesa College and finally at San Diego State University, where he was 1970 NCAA national champion. He then won the 1971 and 1972 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the latter qualifying him for the 1972 Olympic Games.

During a period of U.S. men dominating the Olympic long jump, Robinson won a bronze medal in Munich, .21 meters behind U.S. teammate Randy Williams atop the podium. By 1976 Robinson was the world’s No. 1 long jumper, and showed it in Montreal with a jump of 8.35 meters, besting Williams by .24 meters.

A lifelong San Diegan, Robinson retired from jumping in 1979 and returned to Mesa College where he started as a coach in 1982, and later was a physical education teacher. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2000. That same year, Robinson was severely injured in a car accident after being hit by a drunk driver, and in 2005 was diagnosed with a brain tumor. At first given just six months to live, Robinson had fought the aggressive tumor ever since. 

Mesa College honored Robinson in 2013 by naming an invitational meet after him. The Arnie Robinson Invitational takes place each April. It’s just one lasting impact among many Robinson had on his beloved hometown.

“It wasn’t the fact that we share that special bond of being Olympians, with Arnie, you could be Olympian, aspiring Olympian or simply the best runner in your 5th grade P.E. class and he treated you like a world champion deserving of all praise, encouragement and honor,” Campbell said. “Home grown, high school, community college and university, Arnie loved his hometown and his hometown loved him back. I will miss my friend and mentor and be forever thankful to him believing in me.”

Todd Kortemeier

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.