Bobby Joe Morrow was a 20-year-old from South Texas. His father farmed carrots and cotton and Morrow’s plans seemed simple: Work on the family farm and marry his high school sweetheart.
But then there was the matter of his running, which landed him square in the national spotlight.
Morrow had become a Texas legend. He played football at San Benito High School, but soon took hold as a track star. A member of the Church of Christ, he eschewed bigger colleges and chose to attend Abilene Christian College, which also had a top track program.
While some wondered whether Morrow’s times were the result of strong Texas headwinds, he soon showed otherwise, winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials. At the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, Morrow tied the world record and won gold in the 100-meter dash, won gold in the 200-meter dash and claimed a third gold in the 4×100-meter relay, anchoring the American team to another world record.
Morrow became the first man since Jesse Owens in 1936 to win three track and field gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
“To be able to represent your country in the Olympic Games is an experience an athlete will never forget,” Morrow said. “The people you get to go and meet over there. It’s something to see.”
Morrow made the covers of Time and Sports Illustrated, which also named him Sportsman of the Year. He was invited to address the Texas Legislature, was summoned to a meeting at the White House with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The United States Chamber of Commerce selected Morrow as one of nine Great Living Americans, though Morrow wondered whether he merited that honor.
“Listen to the guys that were in there: Clare Boothe Luce, Cecil B. DeMille, Norman Rockwell,” Morrow said. “Just because I went to the Olympic Games and had the natural ability that my mother probably gave me through birth, why should I be named one of the nine Great Living Americans? Just because of my legs.”