Robert Simpson was an American Army officer and track & field athlete. Active in the early part of the 20thcentury, he specialized in hurdles and helped the Americans solidify their track & field dominance in the 1919 Inter-Allied games.
Simpson was born on May 25, 1892 in Bosworth, Missouri. His father was a farmer, and he grew up performing strenuous tasks around the family farm. The oldest of three boys, Simpson first picked up track & field in high school, with his two younger brothers following in his footsteps. While he started his track & field career in high school, Simpson mainly stuck to long jumps, high jumps, and sprints. It was not until he enrolled at the University of Missouri that he took an interest in hurdling. During his collegiate athletic career, Simpson broke numerous world records in hurdling.
Simpson joined the U.S. Army in 1917, where he became a Lieutenant as well as a track & field instructor. After the end of World War I, Simpson participated in the Inter-Allied games in Paris. He went on to win both the men’s 110 and 200-meter hurdle events. In the low hurdles, Simpson lost to William Sylvester, his cousin, in the tryouts. However, Simpson went on to win the event at the games. Simpson, along with the rest of the American track & field stars, helped to secure U.S. dominance in the sport. Spectators, while pleased with the showing of the American athletes, felt little excitement over the track & field events since the American athletes won with such ease. In addition, The United States suffered relatively few casualties compared to the rest fo the competing nations, giving them a wider pool from which to pull athletes.
After the allied games, Simpson went on to coach track & field at the University of Missouri, his alma mater, following a short stint as the Hungarian Athletic association head coach. He coached at Missouri from 1920 to 1926. During his time there, he mentored and coached future Olympic athletes Jackson Scholtz and Brutus Hamilton. Simpson then moved on to Iowa State University until 1937, choosing to return to coach at a university in Budapest, Hungary. During his time there, he sent a letter back to his friends in Iowa, sending holiday greetings as well as offering his perspective as a Hungarian resident during World War II. He offered encouraging words regarding the English war effort, and reassurance that if the Germans were to attack the U.S., they would be handily dealt with. In 1942, Simpson reenlisted in the army, fighting for the Americans for the duration of the war and achieving the rank of major in 1944.
After the war, Simpson stayed active in the Track & Field community until his death in 1974. He left behind a wife and two children. Simpson’s track & field legacy has been preserved by his admittance into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974, the year of its inception. He is also credited with developing the modern hurdling method.
Star-News 21 July, 1974.
Robert Simpson. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2018, from http://www.usatf.org/halloffame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=156
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Wythe, George. (1919). The Inter-Allied Games: Paris 22ndJune to 6thJuly 1919. The Games Committee.
Pope, S. (1995). An Army of Athletes: Playing Fields, Battlefields, and the American Military Sporting Experience,1890-1920.The Journal of Military History, 59(3), 435-456. doi:10.2307/2944617