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Tar Heel Olympians: Jim Beatty, 1960

In honor of this summer’s Olympics, let’s look back at some Tar Heels who have competed in the games over the years.

Olympics Day 8 - Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This summer, athletes from all over the world will compete in the Olympic games. (Hopefully. Please chill, COVID.) We already know that two a couple Tar Heels will be there on the US and other women’s soccer teams, and there’s sure to be others to officially make it by the games kick off.

In honor of the games, throughout the whole of the summer leading up to them, we’ll be digging into the history books to profile some Tar Heels of the past who competed at the Olympics. We’ll start today with Jim Beatty.

Born in New York, Beatty moved to Charlotte with his family as a child. As a young athlete, he trained as a boxer, and soon began to run while delivering newspapers to help train. Not long after doing that, he convinced the track coach at his high school to let him run the mile in meets. He very quickly adapted to the new sport and won the state championship just weeks after running in his first ever race.

From there, he attended North Carolina, where he went on to become an All-American on the track and won the ACC championship in the mile twice. After graduating, he moved out to California to train with famed coach Mihály Iglói. Under him, he qualified for the 5000 meters at the 1960 Olympics after winning the US Olympic Trials with a time of 14:13.60. He unfortunately couldn’t improve on that time at the games themselves and did not make it out of his heat.

That would be his only Olympics as four years later, the US team was very strong, winning gold and bronze in the 5000. Eight years later, Beatty had already been forced into retirement due to injury. However while it may not have come in an Olympic year, Beatty’s best was yet to come post-1960.

In 1962, Beatty broke 11 American records and three world records over the course of the season. During that run, he became the first person to simultaneously hold the American records in the 1500m, 3000m, 5000m, mile, and three mile races. Not to mention in February of that year, he became the very person to ever break the four-minute mile barrier in an indoor race.

That incredible season would result in him winning the James E. Sullivan award for the best amateur athlete in the country.

After his track career, Beatty was inducted into the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, and served in the North Carolina state legislature.

There are other Tar Heel Olympians that are more decorated that Beatty, but there are few who had as remarkable a rise as he did.