Olympic series part 2: F. Morgan Taylor was a three-time medalist

Morgan Taylor at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

The 1920s saw baseball as the country’s national pastime, but when the World Series ended, the sports minded turned to college football. Track and field gathered its share of ink on the nation’s sports pages. Since 1888, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) annually held national track championships. In 1921, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) held its first men’s national championships. The 1920 Olympics saw the American Charley Paddock win the gold medal in the 100 meters, and he was the quickly named “The fastest man alive.”

Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, and Knute Rockne were household names and a century later they are still well-known historical figures to many Americans. In contrast, the track stars of the 1920s were celebrities in their time, but their fame faded away in the ensuing decades. F. Morgan Taylor falls into that category. In October 1929, Quincy High School teacher and coach, Ray B. Watson, resigned “to go into the insurance business.” The school district took Watson’s recommendation and hired F. Morgan Taylor, a friend, and a teammate of Watson’s on two Olympic teams.

Frederick Morgan Taylor was born April 17, 1903, in Sioux City, Iowa. In high school he was a national champion hurdler. At Grinnell College Taylor would become the college’s most famous athlete, due to his dominance in track; and nearly a century later, he still holds Grinnell’s record in the hurdles and the long jump.

In 1924, while still a student at Grinnell, Taylor finished first in U. S. Olympic trials with what appeared to be a world record time of 52.6. It was accepted as a national record, but not as a world record by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF). At the Summer Games in Paris, Taylor took the gold medal and broke the tape, clocking the same time. However, having knocked down one hurdle, the IAAF again failed to ratify the time.

Returning to Grinnell in 1925 Taylor was the NCAA 220-yard low hurdles champion. Also, in 1925, he won his second 440-yard AAU hurdle title in a world best time of 53.8, but this record too was invalidated. The IAAF did accept the 52 flat 400-meter hurdle time Taylor ran at the 1928 U. S. Olympic trials in Philadelphia on July 4.

Coming into the 1928 Olympics 400-meter hurdles, Morgan Taylor had captured Olympic gold in 1924, recently set the world record in the event, and was favored to repeat in Amsterdam. But when the race was over, Taylor and fellow American, Frank Cuhel, both broke the tape in 53.6, while David Burghley of Great Britain was clocked at 53.4, taking the gold medal. The officials ruled that Cuhel edged Taylor for second. The difference between a gold and bronze medal was .2 of a second.

Two years later four Americans set the record for the one-mile relay, the IAAF accepted the time of 3 minutes 13.4 seconds as the world record. The relay was made up of George Baird, Morgan Taylor, Ray Barbuti, and Emerson “Bud” Spencer. When the record was recognized and reported locally May 21, 1930, Taylor told the Herald Whig: “The event was run as a part of a huge relay meet held at Stamford bridge (Aug. 11, 1928), just outside London, England, following the 1928 Olympics.” He explained: “We were pitted against runners from Canada, Australia, India and the British Isles and ran the event in 3:13 2-5.”

As a world record holder and two-time Olympic medalist, Morgan Taylor was a celebrity in his own right. He may have been an English teacher and tack coach in middle America, but he was still a world-class athlete and continued to work out for national meets and prepare for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. In the summer, Taylor trained at the University of Illinois where the Herald Whig reported that he was “a member of the summer school coaching faculty.”

On June 5, 1932, the Herald Whig stated: “F. Morgan Taylor, member of two Olympic track teams, holder of the world record in the 400-meter hurdles and co-holder with Lord Burghley of England of the Olympic mark in the same event, is headed for more Olympic honors.”

For the third time in eight years, F. Morgan Taylor made the U. S. Olympic team. The two-time medalist was selected to captain the U.S. track and field team. And he was further honored by being the U.S. flag bearer at the opening ceremonies. More than a hundred thousand spectators filled the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch the world’s greatest athletes’ parade around the track.

The July 17, 1932 edition of the Herald Whig notified its readers of Taylor’s progress with this headline----“F. MORGAN TAYLOR, QUINCY OLYMPIC ENTRY, TO FINALS IN THE 400-METER HURDLES.”

Morgan Taylor and Burghley were the favorites, with Taylor holding both the world (52.0) and Olympic (53.4) records. Bob Tisdale of Ireland and Glenn Hardin of the United States were considered strong contenders.

In the end, Tisdale took the gold medal in a time of 51.8 with Hardin grabbing the silver in 52.0. Morgan Taylor went home with the bronze and was also clocked at 52.0. The handheld stopwatch was still the official time, but the automatic timing broke the times down this way---Tisdale at 51.67; Hardin at 51.85; and Taylor at 51.96.

Morgan Taylor, in front of the largest crowd he had ever run before, gave it his all and matched his best time. The August 2 Herald Whig headline said what all Quincyans thought, “WELL DONE.” The paper continued: “F. MORGAN TAYLOR. Running for the third time as a member of the United States Olympic track and field team, the Quincy High school faculty member placed third in the 400-meter hurdles . . . Robert Tisdale of Ireland won the event in less than the world record time.”

By mid-August Taylor had returned to Quincy and his teaching duties, remaining in the Gem City until 1939 when he took a position with Marshall Field & Company in Chicago.

F. Morgan Taylor died in 1975 at age 71.

Sources

“Athletics at the 1924 Summer Olympics---Men’s 400 metres hurdles,” WIKIPEDIA.

“Athletics at the 1928 Summer Olympics---Men’s 400 metres hurdles,” WIKIPEDIA.

“Athletics at the 1932 Summer Olympics---Men’s 400 metres hurdles,” WIKIPEDIA.

“Brocksmith Sets New Mark in Olympic Trials, F. Morgan Taylor Finished Second in Hurdles Event,” Quincy Herald Whig,         June 26, 1932. 

“F. M. Taylor, New Quincy High School Track Coach, Hold World Hurdle Mark,” Quincy Herald Whig, November 3,1929. 

“F. M. Taylor To Be Coach Of Track Team,” Quincy Herald Whig, November 1, 1929.

F. Morgan Taylor (1995)-Grinnell College Athletics Hall of Fame.

“F. Morgan Taylor, Member of Q.H.S. Faculty, Shares Relay World Mark Just Recognized,” Quincy Herald Whig, May 21, 1930.

“F. Morgan Taylor, Quincy Olympic Entry, to Finals In The 400-Meter Hurdles,” Quincy Herald Whig, July 17, 1932. 

“F. Morgan Taylor to Defend His World Hurdle Record In Track Events This Summer,” Quincy Herald Whig, May 25, 1930.

Frederick Morgan Taylor (1903-1975)-Find A Grave Memorial. 

“Get Places In Hurdles And In The Broad Jump---Q. H. S. Coach Third in Hurdles---Redd Third in Broad Jump,” Quincy Herald Whig, August 1, 1932. 

“Morgan Taylor Is Employed in Chicago,” Quincy Herald Whig, July 20, 1947. 

“Morgan Taylor surges to 400m hurdle glory.” Olympic News, July 9, 1924. 

“Morgan Taylor To Compete In National Meet,” Quincy Herald Whig, May 16, 1930.

“Q. H. S. coach Is Headed for the Olympic Games,” Quincy Herald Whig, June 5, 1932.

“QHS Hall of Famer Taylor added to MVC list of legends,” Quincy Herald Whig, September 5, 2020.

“Quincyan Noses Out Lord David By Half A Foot” & “Well Done,” Quincy Herald Whig, August 2, 1932.

“THIS ‘N THAT In Sports,” Quincy Herald Whig, November 3,1929.

USA Track and Field – Hall of Fame – Frederick Morgan Taylor.

Phil Reyburn is a retired field representative for the Social Security Administration. He authored “Clear the Track: A History of the Eighty-ninth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, The Railroad Regiment” and co-edited “’Jottings from Dixie:’ The Civil War Dispatches of Sergeant Major Stephen F. Fleharty, U.S.A.”

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County is preserving the Governor John Wood Mansion, the History Museum on the Square, the 1835 Log Cabin, the Livery, the Lincoln Gallery displays, and a collection of artifacts and documents that tell the story of who we are. This award-winning column is written by members of the Society. For more information visit hsqac.org or email info@hsqac.org.

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