World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that USA’s 1976 Olympic long jump champion Arnie Robinson died on Tuesday (1) at the age of 72.
Aside from his achievements as an athlete, Robinson will be remembered as a survivor, having defied the odds in a near-fatal collision with a drunk driver in 2000, and after being given just six months to live when diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in 2005.
More than that, though, Robinson will also be remembered as a humble man who dedicated his life to the sport and to helping others.
Born in San Diego in 1948, Clarence Earl ‘Arnie’ Robinson taught himself to jump using a discarded mattress on the driveway of his family home. As a promising young athlete at San Diego State University, he first came to prominence when winning the 1970 NCAA title.
Just 12 months later, Robinson won at the US Championships – his first of a record-equalling six national titles in the long jump – and then took gold at the 1971 Pan-American Games in Cali. He booked his place on the 1972 Olympic team after winning the US Trials and went on to take the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Munich with an 8.03m leap in the penultimate round.
Robinson improved his PB to 8.30m in 1974, a world-leading mark that year, and took silver at the Pan-American Games in 1975.
He won the US Olympic Trials again in 1976 with a wind-assisted 8.37m, the best mark of his career in any conditions, and he headed to the Games in Montreal in the form of his life. Robinson opened his series in the final with a world-leading lifetime best of 8.35m (-0.6m/s), immediately putting pressure on his opponents, not least teammate Randy Williams, the defending champion. Williams responded with 8.11m, but Robinson backed up his leading mark with 8.26m in round two.
Williams never improved on his first-round leap, while three other men – Frank Wartenberg, Jacques Rousseau and Joao do Pulo – only just managed to jump eight metres. Robinson, meanwhile, was relentless and produced jumps of 8.04m and 8.16m in the fourth and fifth rounds to consolidate his lead.
By the end of the competition, Robinson had produced the three best leaps of the final, winning comfortably with a margin of 24 centimetres.
Robinson went on to win the long jump at the inaugural World Cup in 1977 in Dusseldorf before earning his sixth and final US title in 1978. After finishing sixth at the 1980 US Trials, he retired in the early 1980s.
While working as a coach at Mesa College, Robinson dedicated much of his time, finances and resources to helping track and field at all levels in San Diego. He spent more than €35,000 of his own money on timing equipment to be used at youth-level athletics. Not only that, he also spent hours teaching himself to use the equipment so that he could operate it at competitions.
“I had no idea who the man was or what his accomplishments were,” double Olympic 4x400m champion Monique Henderson told the San Diego Union Tribune in 2018. “I just knew this man was making our meets as professional as he could. He didn’t have anybody assisting him. You go to a track meet now and there are five guys in a tent running the timing system. It was just Arnie. The time he spent learning the system, it’s unbelievable. And Arnie didn’t charge any of the youth organisations a dime.
“I grew up in a track family,” added Henderson, “but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had as big a passion for track and field that he had.”