Gayle Hopkins, who advanced to the final round in the men’s long jump at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, died in his sleep on Sunday night or early Monday morning in Tucson, Arizona, according to sources close to the matter.
Hopkins was 74.
He was a longtime administrator in the University of Arizona athletic department. He returned to the Tucson school, his alma mater, in 1983 and spent 27 years as an assistant to the athletic director before retiring in 2010. He worked closely with ex-Wildcats athletes and alumni and, as noted in biographical information posted on the university’s athletic website, he directed “projects to influence former athletes to return to complete their degree.”
By all accounts, Hopkins made a profound impact at the school and in the community.
Former Arizona basketball star Reggie Geary, the current coach of the NBL’s Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins, reflected on Hopkins’ life, writing about the beloved mentor on Facebook.
“Just hearing the incredibly sad news about Dr. Gayle Hopkins passing away,” Geary wrote on Tuesday. “A true UofA legend, USA Olympian (1964, Tokyo), and mentor to hundreds (if not thousands) of UofA student-athletes. Dr. Hopkins was ‘old school’ and was there for me with wise advice, a smile, and a pat on the back at a very tough time in my professional career as a young coach. UofA athletics has definitely lost a special father figure in the Wildcat family. RIP Dr. Hopkins!”
Hopkins’ death comes just days after legendary Romanian high jumper Iolanda Balas, passed away on March 11 at age 79. Balas captured the gold in Tokyo after earning her first Olympic title at the 1960 Rome Games.
In Tokyo, Hopkins soared into the long jump’s final round, one of 12 men in the world to do so. He finished 12th overall.
Forty years later, Tucson Citizen sports writer Jessie Vanderson spoke to Hopkins about his experience competing in Japan’s capital city.
“I should have won that thing,” Hopkins told the Tucson Citizen. “I came in ranked No. 3 in the world. It is personal. I was a competitor, and I wanted to win. I do not thing that I performed well.”
For the 187-cm Hopkins, the conditions at Tokyo’s National Stadium were far from ideal on Oct. 18, 1964.
“Hopkins jumped 25 feet (7.67 meters) in the first round, but he had trouble adjusting to the conditions in the semifinals and fouled on his three attempts,” Vanderson reported.
The weather affected Hopkins.
“In the semifinals, I never really could get my steps down,” Hopkins recalled. “It was about 42 degrees (5.5 C) and rainy. The wind would hit and knock me off my stride. … That was the first time I had jumped in those type of conditions. This was pretty severe. If I could’ve gotten in one good jump, I would have been OK.”
Instead, the medals went to Great Britain’s Lynn Davies (8.07 meters), American Ralph Boston (8.03) and the Soviet Union’s Igor Ter-Ovanesyan (7.99).
In 2004, Hopkins insisted he wasn’t bitter about falling short of a medal in Tokyo.
“…There is not any pain surrounding my experience at the ′64 Games,” he told the Tucson Citizen. “It is one of the best experiences that I have ever had. I still have friendships that were developed in ′64.”
Hopkins, who was born on Nov. 7, 1941, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a star prep athlete, including baseball and basketball, in Davenport, Iowa. Before coming to Arizona, he attended Trinidad State (Colorado) Junior College. He participated in football and track at the two-year school. On the gridiron, he was named the starting quarterback for the opener in 1960. Trinidad’s opponent? New Mexico Military, which had future NFL standout Roger Staubach as signal-caller, the Des Moines (Iowa) Register reported in 1987. “They beat us,” Hopkins was quoted saying. “He (Staubach) was cocky, too.”
After a year at Trinidad, Hopkins attended the University of Arizona from 1962-64. He captured the NCAA outdoor title in the long jump in ′64, becoming the first individual national champion for the University of Arizona.
Over the years, Hopkins, who was inducted into the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, was involved with the Urban League Caucus, the NAACP and the University of Arizona Black Alumni Association, among other civic organizations. He received a master’s degree (San Francisco State) and a Ph.D. from Claremont College. Before returning to the UA, Hopkins was a track coach and director of physical education at Claremont.