Alma Richards


Alma Richards, as an unsung high school student, surprisingly set an Olympic record for the high jump in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. He was the only native Utahn and member of the LDS church to win an Olympic gold medal in the twentieth century. After a stellar collegiate track career that saw him lead Cornell to three national championships, Richards for two decades reigned as America’s most accomplished multiple-event track and field athlete, winning national titles in five different events. Despite his prominence in the history of American sports, this is the first treatment of his athletic career and personal life.

The book traces Richards from his boyhood in rural Parowan, Utah, to Cornell and through his service as an officer in World War I and his teaching career in Los Angeles. His story is that of a remarkable athlete, but also that of a man struggling for personal fulfillment while endeavoring to retain his Mormon heritage amid his changing religious circumstances and participation. More than a century has passed since Alma Richards won an Olympic gold medal, yet this story about man and sport—the drive to excel, victory as validation of hard work, the quest for public recognition and, ultimately, the achievement of self-identity and self-satisfaction—still resonates today.

Larry Gerlach is professor emeritus of history at the University of Utah. His numerous books and articles include Blazing Crosses in Zion: The Ku Klux Klan in Utah and The Men in Blue: Conversations With Umpires.

Table of Contents:
1. Formative Years
2. From Parowan to Provo
3. Making the American Team 

4. Going for Gold
5. The Hero Returns 

6. The Big Cornellian 

7. Military Interlude 

8. To the Track
9. On the Home Front 

10. Alma Remembering 

11. Remembering Alma 

12. God, Gold, and Glory? 

13. Crossing the Bar
14. Alma Richards Redivivus 

Appendix A: Martha Ward, “Tribute to Alma Richards”
Appendix B: Alma Richards Track and Field Records

Praise and Reviews:
“Gerlach’s well-sourced and well-reasoned arguments and commentary add nuance and critical analysis to the story, offering a break from straightforward narrative and allowing critical glimpses into both the athlete and his world.”
—David J. Lunt, assistant professor of history, Southern Utah University

“Gerlach seeks to separate fact from fiction, and myth from reality, to discover a gifted athlete whose story we thought we knew but didn’t. Richards’s life—which is full of triumphs and tragedies, successes and failure—provides any interested reader with an important lens to view a number of topics.”
—John Sillito, professor emeritus of libraries, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah

“A detailed and well-researched account, Gerlach has drawn a compelling portrait of a person who started out with a humble beginning on a Utah farm and eventually became one of the greatest athletes in history, all the while not forgetting who he was and where he came from.”—Deseret News

“The amount of quality research performed by Gerlach is exemplary and attested to in the acknowledgments and notes sections of this book. . . . Gerlach makes it easy for us to not only imagine the kind of person Alma was but come to think of him as a close acquaintance as well.” —Journal of Mormon History

“Discerning and diligently researched.” —Utah Historical Quarterly

“Richards might now enjoy a new lease of fame as Gerlach, now professor emeritus, has given Richards a fitting literary memorial—a cradle to grave chronicle. In this, the reader not only meets a local athletic hero, but learns a lot about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons), about missionary work, polygamy, agriculture and the development of Utah.”—Journal of Olympic History