World Athletics is saddened by the news that Walter 'Buddy' Davis, the 1952 Olympic champion in the high jump, died on Tuesday (17) at his home in Port Arthur, Texas. Davis was 89.
Despite contracting polio at age eight, Davis became a standout in both the high jump and basketball, which culminated in his Olympic title and a career in the NBA.
“As far as polio is concerned, I was only eight years old, so I was not aware of what was going on,” Davis told The Port Arthur (Texas) News in July 2016. “I just knew my mother was upset and I was being treated like a king. The torture part was having to wear those braces on my leg [and] stay in the bed at all times.” Unable to walk for three years, he eventually overcame the affliction with leg strengthening exercises which ultimately paved the way for successful high school and college athletics careers.
He competed in both sports while a student at Texas A&M University in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He won the 1952 NCAA high jump title with a leap of 2.03m and the national AAU title with a leap of 2.09m soon after before his triumph in Helsinki later that summer where he topped 2.04m, an Olympic record.
He broke the world record in 1953 with a 2.12m leap, which would remain unbroken for three years.
It's widely believed that Davis was the first jumper to scale seven feet (2.13m), but he never managed the feat in an official competition. Davis was also often hired to perform at exhibition events.
“Twice in an exhibition he jumped 7 feet, but they didn’t count it because it wasn’t an official meet,” his son, Shaun Davis, told The Port Arthur News. “He would open up a car dealership, and they would ask him to put on jumping exhibitions. They would fly him out to California and they would set up a high jump deal. He would do those jumps and attract a crowd.”
At 2.04m tall, Davis was a highly sought-after prospect by the NBA. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors after the 1952 Olympics and spent six years in the NBA from the 1953-54 season playing centre and power forward. He won two NBA titles, once with Philadelphia and another with the St Louis Hawks.