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The story of UNC’s first Olympic medalist

Carolina’s first Olympic medalist had quite the career on and off sporting fields.

Athletics - Olympics: Day 14 Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

As previously written about, the first ever UNC athlete to go to an Olympic games did not come from the basketball court or soccer field as one might expect. It was track and field athlete Harry Williamson, who represented the US and the Tar Heels at the 1936 Olympics.

He did not come home with the gold, or any other medals. It took another 12 years before any UNC athlete did, but the person who did eventually break through is still one of the more decorated Olympians in school history.

Floyd “Chunk” Simmons was an all-around good athlete in Chapel Hill, playing both football and track and field at the school. The son of the football coach at Davidson, Simmons was a good player for UNC, but was stuck behind someone named Charlie Justice, whoever that is.

He was more known for track and field, and became a star in that. His event was the decathlon, and he was later quoted as saying he competed in that discipline because “(he) wanted to do it all.”

He first qualified for the Olympics in 1948 for the games in London. The US won gold in the event, but it wasn’t Simmons. Seventeen-year old Bob Mathias won. However, Simmons came home with bronze, finishing just 26 points behind the silver medalist. He led through six events, and put up solid results in the remaining four, but was just surpassed down the stretch.

Four years later in Helsinki, Simmons returned for another Olympic decathlon. He again finished in the bronze medal spot, as part of an American sweep where Mathias again won gold and set a world record. In some respects, Simmons was just unlucky to be competing in a time with Mathias, who also played college football and appeared to be an outright athletic freak.

Those were Simmons’ only two Olympics. Bronze medals aren’t gold medals, but considering that no former Carolina athlete won an individual gold medal until 1996, Simmons’ feat is still quite impressive.

His post-athletics career is arguably just as notable, as Simmons went on to do some acting. He appeared in the 1958 film adaptation of the musical South Pacific. Simmons was supposedly became friends with Clint Eastwood early in their careers.

After his acting career, Simmons returned to his hometown of Charlotte and lived the remainder of his life there.

Floyd Simmons is far from the most famous athlete to have ever gone to UNC. However in Tar Heel circles, he will forever be the answer to a trivia question.

Sources

https://blogs.lib.unc.edu/hill/index.php/2016/08/08/uncs-olympic-firsts/

http://ncpreptrack.org/ChunkSimmons.html

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1948/ATH/mens-decathlon.html

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1952/ATH/mens-decathlon.html