Inducted under Track and Field in 1988, Willie Banks was a popular Oceanside High and UCLA grad who set a triple jump world record of 58 feet, 11-1/2 inches in June 1985, the first American to hold this record since 1912. He won the state prep title the first year the triple jump was included, and repeated with a CIF record of 51-3. He won four national open titles and was USOC Sportsman of the Year in 1985.
When last seen in these parts, Willie was more interested in not being seen. The former Oceanside High and UCLA athlete had just finished sixth in the Olympic Games triple jump at Los Angeles-a beaten favorite in front of friends and neighbors.
The first thing he did was repair to his hotel room and cry. The second thing he did was discover that he had a lot fewer friends that he thought. “It wasn’t the loss that hurt me so much, although it hurt,” Banks says now. “It was the desertion, all the people who deserted me. Sure some close people stayed with me and that helped me get through the hard times. But other people I thought were girlfriends, just disappeared.”
Too bad for them. They missed a lot of fun.
From the rubble of that moment, a moment when Banks’ career as a world-class track and field athlete seemed at an end, Willie constructed a pretty remarkable comeback.
First, he jumped 58-11 1/2 in the ‘85 USA Outdoor Championship at Indianapolis, becoming the first American in 74 years to claim a world record in his event.
Then he went to Europe and won, and won, beating all those people who had beaten him in the Olympics. Finally, he went to the World Cup in Canberra, Australia, and claimed the first “world” title of his career.
Banks competed 25 times on five continents in 1985. He won 21 times and finished second the other four. Not bad for a washed-up jumper logging around 29 years of age.
Banks was selected “Sportsman of the Year” by the U.S. Olympic Committee. He was a nominee for the Sullivan Award (won by Joan Benoit) which honors America’s top amateur athlete.
“A lot of people think you have to quit at a certain age,” he says. “That’s better for me. I don’t have to compete with people who are experienced.”
“I never think about being too old. I think we’re proving that people can compete, and improve, a lot longer than we used to think they could in track and field. I’d like to go on proving it.”
Excerpts from Wayne Lockwood’s column in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 9, 1986.
Former world record holder in triple jump with a mark of 58 feet, 11 1/2 inches set in 1985. Winner of Jesse Owens Award as outstanding Track and Field athlete in the United States in 1985. Member of 1980 Olympics team, four times U.S. outdoor champion. Top ranked jumper in the world in 1981 and 1985, and rated second in 1980 and 1983. Also excelled in long jump with a top mark of 26 feet 5 3/4 inches. While at Oceanside High, won CIF long jump in 1972 (23? 4 1/2?) and also in 1974 (23? 7 1/2?). Won CIF triple jump in 1973 (48? 7 3/4?) and 1974 (49? 1 1/2?).