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90-year-old Middleton resident John Bennett won a silver medal at the 1956 Olympic games

Bennett competed in the long jump in Melbourne, Australia
Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 5:00 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 7:18 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Back in his day, 90-year-old John Bennett of Middleton was quite the athlete. Track and field was his sport and the long jump was his specialty. He was so talented that he made it all the way to the Olympic games in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia and came home with the silver medal.

“It’s a combination of speed, balance, and muscle control,” said Bennett.

Bennett was born in 1930 in Grand Forks, North Dakota where he was a track star in high school. His performances earned him a scholarship to Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Bennett poses on the Olympic podium with the two other medal winners from the long jump event...
Bennett poses on the Olympic podium with the two other medal winners from the long jump event in Melbourne, Australia(Brian Bennett)

“I had a great coach in Melvin “Bus” Shimek. He gave me a lot of instructions…how to do this and that and as a result I came out ahead and in many different ways. He was a great coach,” said Bennett.

After graduating from Marquette, Bennett joined the Army and continued to train in hopes of qualifying for the Olympic games in 1956.

“It was a real challenge for us because I was in the Army and I had to kind of talk them into letting me represent (the country) because there was a lot of action going on in Korea,” said Bennett.

At 26 years old, the Army allowed Bennett to compete at the games and flew him to Melbourne alongside one of the greatest athletes of all time: Jesse Owens.

“We were on the same plane and we got a chance to talk,” Bennett said of the former long jump world record holder. “Just a wonderful person, just a wonderful person.”

Widely considered one of the greatest athletes to ever live, Jesse Owens accompanied Bennett on...
Widely considered one of the greatest athletes to ever live, Jesse Owens accompanied Bennett on the flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne in 1956(Brian Bennett)

While in Melbourne, Bennett jumped a distance of more than 25 feet, good enough for the silver medal behind his American teammate Greg Bell who won the gold.

“You stand there you kind of stunned and everything kind of rotates in your head about how you got there,” Bennett said of being on the Olympic podium. “And it’s a wonderful experience,”

John Bennett jumped more than 25 feet in the long jump competition
John Bennett jumped more than 25 feet in the long jump competition(Tim Elliott)

After the Olympics, Bennett came back to Wisconsin and met Therese.

“I knew his sister,” Therese said. “(She told me) John is coming home from the Olympics and he will bring his slides and he will show us his slides.”

Their first date? A track meet, of course.

“Well, I thought it was interesting. Yeah, I mean I didn’t have much knowledge about stuff like that,” said Therese.

The Bennetts eventually settled down in the Madison area where they raised three girls and a boy. The Bennetts say they love watching the athletes compete in this year’s Olympic games. They especially enjoy all of the track and field events.

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A close-up of John Bennett's 1956 silver medal
A close-up of John Bennett's 1956 silver medal(Tim Elliott)