Saturday, January 21, 2012

Surname Saturday, 2012 January 21st: Ralph Anthony Hill honored at Henley High's Hall of Fame

Guest Post from Sharon K. Hill to commemorate her grandfather Ralph A. Hill who won a Silver Medal in the 5,000 meter run at the 1932 Olympics.  Today,  January 21, 2012, Henley High School will induct it's first slate for their Hall of Fame, which include,  Ralph A. Hill, 1932 Silver Olympic medalist; Dan O'Brien, 1996 Olympic Medalist; Fred Hess; Robin Parker; Coaches Carrol Howe and Dick Reiling;1946 B State Champions; 1980 AA Girls Basketball State Champions;and Special Contributors, (early) Athletic Field Volunteers and Geneva & Willard Duncan.

Henley has 31 Oregon State Championships; 15 head coaches that have won titles (5 are still active, eight retired, two have passed away).  Many Henley High School Athletes have won district, state,and even national and Olympic awards.

Ralph Anthony Hill
December 26,1907 - October 17, 1994

For Ralph Anthony Hill, Olympian and My Grandfather
Sharon K. Hill

Our family, my father Richard Allen Hill, my uncle Robert Dixon Hill, and aunt Jeanie Elizabeth Hill Arant, and their families, appreciate the honor bestowed upon their father, grandfather, great and great-great grandfather Ralph Anthony Hill, the hometown Henley hero as the first inductee into the Henley High School Hall of Fame for his collegiate and Olympic track and field successes. He set the American record for the mile in 1930 (4:12.4) and the American record of (14:30) in the 5000 meters at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles securing the Olympic Silver Medal in the ’32 Games most controversial finish.
College and Records
  • With his brother Clarence, Grandad ran at the University of Oregon coached by legendary “Colonel Bill” Hayward.
  • His collegiate career included a rivalry with University of Washington Husky Rufus Kiser. He had not beat Rufus over a two year period until the 1930 race where Ralph held off Rufus for the American mile record 4:12.4.
  • Ralph placed three consecutive years in the national collegiate championships in the mile, finishing second in 1931.
  • The next year, he moved up to 5,000 meters and won the AAU title.
  • Three weeks later, he challenged the Finns, the recognized masters of distance running, in the Los Angeles Olympics. The Flying Finns led by Paavo Nurmi had dominated the distances in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics. Nurmi was prohibited from competing in 1932 as he was deemed professional. No matter – Finland’s Lauri Lehtinen had broken Paavo Nurmi’s world record in June at the Finnish Olympic Trials.

The Olympic Final Race (12.5 laps)
  • In the 5000 meter final Lehtinen and Virtanen opened up quickly and pushed the pace from the beginning.
  • By 4,000 meters (10 laps) they led with only America’s Ralph Hill in contact, having tenaciously battled the Finns for 10 laps.
  • By the lap 11 Virtanen had fallen off the pace.
  • Ralph went with Lehtinen. Battling, jockey through 11 laps, it was now a two man race.
  • On the bell lap. Ralph ran on Lehtinen’s hip, stride for stride.
  • Coming off the final turn Ralph moved to the 2nd lane to pass.
  • Lehtinen swung wide and moved out to block.
  • Ralph recovered and moved toward the vacant inside slot.
  • Lehtinen again moved to block Ralph’s inside move.
  • They raced to the tape in the same time 14:30. Lehtinen’s chest broke the tape first. Less than a foot (30cm) difference at the tape between Gold and Silver.
  • Ralph declined to protest. It was race strategy, accidental, unintentional. Hill later graciously commented that although he had been blocked, he felt Lehtinen had enough reserve to win the race in any case.
  • Hill was proclaimed the Hero of the Games for his sportsmanship and respectable reaction to the circumstances.

Lessons and His Legacy
Ralph’s tenacity and focus on a singular purpose were life lessons he lived.
  • His local training included running around the local canals. Family lore has it that Grandad ran the canals to catch a glimpse of his future wife Lois Dixon and she vice versa
  • After earning a degree in business administration, Hill returned to Henley and spent his life farming. Polio took his wife Lois. He too contracted polio. He lost use of his right arm, but he continued working. More than that, he relearned water-skiing and snow skiing. From athletic pinnacle to debilitating polio, he remained tenacious, and did not relent.
  • I was fascinated as a child to see the “door knobs” on the truck and tractor steering wheels –  knobs that his weakened hands could grasp so that he could turn the wheels and continue working.
  • Who I am is to persevere and try other ways to press on. – a lesson from my father and from his father. I am blessed with those lessons.

Olympic sportsmanship, graciousness
  • Ralph had done his best against the best, and in that he had triumphed.
  • We grew up with a stop watch in hand for science projects and racing alike but Ralph’s legacy is more than racing and the silver medal –
         His legacy is also his sportsmanship, and to do your best.    
         And to take your lessons from sports to who you are and how you live.

"Victory is in having done your best. If you've done your best, you've won."
                                                                                                                 Bill Bowerman
American Track & Field Coach and Co-Founder of Nike,Inc.

Before Bowerman said it,  Ralph lived it.


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  1. How wonderful that Ralph is being honored! Great post!

  2. What an inspiring life lesson! Thanks for sharing.