The Legend of Arthur Tuck
There were not — and possibly still aren’t — enough superlatives suitable for Arthur Tuck.
He was Herculean, a titan among boys. “Sensational,” “phenom” and “athletic wonder” did not do justice for the Redmond High track and field star. Tuck was much more than that. He himself was a descriptor, at least for the Morning Oregonian newspaper.
From May 17, 1919, in a story previewing a seven-team track meet — one not involving Redmond — the paper reported: “Unless some of the other schools furnish an Arthur Tuck for the meet, Lebanon high school is confidently expected to carry off the honors.”
That was the impact Tuck had on athletics in this state 95 years ago, after he accomplished what likely no Oregon prep athlete had done before — and what none almost certainly will ever do again.
On May 10, 1919, seven years after Jim Thorpe was dubbed “the world’s greatest athlete” for winning the decathlon at the Stockholm Olympics, Tuck put on what the Oregonian called the “greatest exhibition of a one-man track and field team ever shown.” At the State High School Track Meet, as it was printed in University of Oregon green on his No. 30 yellow bib, the 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound 17-year-old from Redmond became “the greatest athlete ever developed in the high school circles of the Northwest,” another Portland newspaper described him.
Of the 12 events staged at the old Kincaid Field at the University of Oregon, not far from where Hayward Field now stands, Tuck won seven and placed second in another. When all was said and done, when the cinder dust settled back onto the track surface, Tuck had racked up 38 points for Redmond High, which went on to win the team state title — with 38 points.
From the Grants Pass Daily Courier on May 22, 1919: “A 17-year-old boy, height 6 feet, 1 1/2 inches, and weighing 185 pounds became the latest athletic sensation of the Pacific coast when he ran and jumped himself into fame on May 10 by winning, single handed, an interscholastic meet for his institution. Arthur Tuck is his name and he hails from Redmond, Oregon.”
At that meet, Tuck set state records in the discus, the javelin (by 30 feet) and the 100-yard dash, which he ran in 10 seconds flat.
“But I got chiseled by the timers,” Tuck recalled in a 1977 interview with The Bulletin, two years before his death at age 77. “Four of them had me in 9.8 (seconds) and one had me in 10.3. So they rounded it off to 10.0 after debating for half an hour. I still got the record but …”
Dozens of photos that capture — or attempt to capture — the splender of Art Tuck. Sepia stills that show him stretching his arms out wide as he flew through the finishing tape of the dashes. Pictures that display his catapult arm torquing his body after hurling the javelin. Photos that capture Tuck clearing sawhorse-style hurdles and churning up the primitive dirt track as he pulled away from the field.
He was “the Redmond phenom” to the Morning Oregonian, an “eastern Oregon phenomenon” to another clipping from an unidentified newspaper, which, along with other articles and photos, line the pages of a Tuck family scrapbook dedicated to Art’s track and field feats.
A day after the 1919 state meet — during which Tuck competed in 13 races and five field events over the span of a single day — Tuck was presented with three cups and five medals to commemorate his achievements. Two trophies stayed with him long after his headline-stealing day: a silver cup that recognized him as the meet’s high-point winner, and a trophy, now tarnished with age, for the team state championship.
From the Morning Oregonian on May 11, 1919: “Eleven times Tuck was called forward until his pockets and his arms were burdened with the three silver cups.”
After just eight events (not including preliminary heats) in one day, Tuck, whose father, John, was a teacher in the first public school in Redmond and is the namesake for the city’s John Tuck Elementary School, became “the greatest all-around high school athlete that ever sprang into prominence in Oregon,” according to the Morning Oregonian.
His times, heights and distances may not be as remarkable as modern-day standards. For instance, his 10-second 100-yard dash, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, converts to a 10.9 over today’s 100 meters; Thomas Tyner, now a UO running back who was a prep standout at Aloha High, holds the OSAA state-meet record at 10.48 seconds. Tuck’s state-record throws of 123 feet, 10 inches in the discus and 174 feet, 8 inches in the javelin are diminutive when stacked up against the OSAA’s top discus mark of 197-11 (set in 1985) and the best javelin throw of 231-1 (set in 2009).
But picture the setting in which Tuck delivered his championship performances.
In heavier track shoes he later recalled purchasing for “four or five” bucks, Tuck breezed over the loose, churned-up cinder track at Kincaid Field. Nowadays, athletes sport featherweight footwear costing over $100 as they take to the state-of-the-art urethane-coated track surface at Hayward Field. Tuck hurled what was described as a “college-size” discus, which carried more weight and had a greater diameter than the high school discus of today. In the shot put, there was no spinning technique, as it was not developed until the 1970s. The high jump’s “Fosbury flop” would not revolutionize the event for another 49 years, so jumpers in Tuck’s day utilized either a scissors-style leap or a Western roll, during which jumpers cleared the bar while facing down rather than up.
A week before that 1919 state meet, the “sensation of 1919,” as Tuck was dubbed by several publications in Oregon, was timed at 10.1 seconds in the 100-yard dash. And as Tuck recalled decades later, the Portland papers called it a fluke.
“They said no man who was six-foot and 200 pounds could run that fast,” Tuck said in the 1977 Bulletin interview.
But after his one-day, fame-filled state championship showcase, moods shifted.
Recapping the state meet, one newspaper reported that Tuck “covers the ground like a whirlwind despite his form and exceptional bigness for a dash man.”
In a May 15, 1919, issue of the Spokesman, it was written that Tuck “comes home loaded with Glory, Honor, Cups and Medals enough for a coat of mail.” In 1937, after Bend High won its first-ever state track and field team title, The Bulletin recalled that “once before a Central Oregon ‘team,’ composed of one man, won similar honors. That ‘team,’ of course, was Arthur Tuck.”
The Bulletin’s story continued: “Portland high schools were expected to be the principal contestants. Consequently, entire upstate squads, and Redmond’s one-man track team, were mostly ignored in the advance ‘dope.’ ”
Tuck went on to win college championships while at the University of Oregon and competed in the 1920 Olympics, where he placed 11th in the javelin.
But all that remains from Tuck’s decorated past is a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and photos. Years ago, his home was broken into. According to his granddaughter, Lisa Nelson, among the stolen items were hundreds of his medals, his Olympic track gear, and his Oregon state trooper badge. (Tuck presumably was one of the state’s first troopers, as the Oregon State Police was established in 1931.)
Tuck’s history was stolen from him. Yet his track legend remains.
He was a sensation to many of his time, a phenom to others. And to The Sun in New York, reporting on Tuck at an AAU meet in Philadelphia in September 1919, he was the “young giant from the sun kissed slopes of the Rockies.” (We can suppose that The Sun knew more about track and field than about U.S. geography.)
Redmond’s Art Tuck was a titan. He was Herculean. And in Oregon high school track and field, he remains a legend.