The recent mind-blowing success of the Summit High School girls cross country team with 15 consecutive state championships has been turning a well deserved spotlight on Bend’s track and field excellence. But did you know that the first mega track star from Central Oregon was a man named Arthur Tuck?
“Tuck, of Redmond was from another planet. At a time when the average American male was five feet, seven three-quarters or something like that. At 18, he was six-one and 185,” said historian Jim Crowell.
Tuck was an athlete from Redmond High, who, in 1919 won an entire state track meet — by himself. He won seven of his 12 events and came in second in another, breaking three state records in the process.
Back in those days, you didn’t qualify with time. You had to run against everyone in the field, So he had to run five heats in the 100-yard dash, four heads in the 220 and four heats in the hurdles. And then he had to find time to jump.
“So, he was doing something all day. And as he said, he only got one jump in the high jump because that’s all the time that he had because he had to get to another event,” Crowell said.
Tuck scored 38 points that day. In second place was the entire school of Jefferson High from Portland with 28.
“State papers called it the single-most impressive young athlete in the history of the state in track and field. And of course, the colleges took notice of that. And there was this competition between the University of Oregon, Washington and Oregon State as to where Mr. Tuck was going to go to school,” Crowell said.
Tuck eventually signed with the legendary Bill Hayward at the University of Oregon. But rather than flourishing under his wing, Tuck suffered a career-threatening injury under Hayward’s car. That horrible twist of fate forever changed his prospects and his life.
“He was in a car accident where Hayward was driving the car. Supposedly had picked up some gal at a picnic area up in the mountains towards Mt. Hood and Hayward put the car in the ditch and it busted up Tuck’s knee and he was never the same after that,” Crowell said.
At one point, Tuck was concerned about his knee and went to get it looked at. When the doctor said he needed to amputate, Tuck said no way and made run for it the best he could.
“He was not going out of there without his leg and my guess is that it wasn’t the doctor around who was going to try to prevent him either,” Crowell said.
When he got back home for a second opinion, the sparks in Redmond started to fly.
“He was looked at, according to him, at the infirmary at the university and they didn’t do what they were supposed to. And when he came back to Redmond to be treated by a Redmond doctor. And the doctor just went berserk as to how he had been mishandled at the university,” Crowell said.
Tuck’s physical abilities began to suffer badly, but he still had just enough natural ability and gusto to represent the United States at the Olympics. And even more so — the Decathlon. While he was still a teenager.
“And Tuck always blamed Hayward for his lack of success when Tuck went to the Olympics at age 19,” Crowell said.
Sadly, along with physical degradation, Tuck largely retreated within himself, often looking back on what could have been. And while he never made a career as a track star, he did go on to become quite a legend with the state police.
“If you’re a criminal, don’t get Art Tuck on your trail. Anybody else in any of the police departments or the state police. But if you get Tuck, you’re in major trouble right from the beginning,” Crowell said.
Finally, you know it’s interesting, the last American to win the decathlon in the Olympics was from Central Oregon. You know him as Ashton Eaton.
“And 100 years before, there was a kid just 16 miles away who represents the United States also in the Olympic Games. It doesn’t happen that often where, in that particular event you get two people from the same community representing the United States in the decathlon, the world’s greatest athletic test,” Crowell said.