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Olympian Bob Mathias dies

Bob Mathias, the Tulare native who became a national hero by winning the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon as a teenager, died Saturday afternoon. He was 75.

Mathias died at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at his home in Fresno, surrounded by family, a family spokesman said. Mathias, who had been living in Fresno since 1988, had battled cancer since 1996.

Visitation will be held from 5:30-8 p.m. Tuesday at Hamilton Peers Lorentzen Funeral Home, 132 West Kern Ave. in Tulare.

Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Tulare United Methodist Church, 228 West Kern Ave. in Tulare, with graveside services to follow at Tulare District Cemetery.

Mathias was only 17 when he shocked the world as a small-town underdog who became the youngest ever to win the Olympic decathlon, which he achieved on a dark, wet night in London in 1948.

�I have always believed that everyone has the potential to do something extraordinary if they�re guided and helped along the way,� Mathias once said.

He immediately became more than just a Tulare legend. He was an American hero and a world-renowned athlete.

Then his legacy really took off.

In 1952 he became the first man to win the gold medal in the decathlon in two consecutive Olympics. That was the year after he reach the height of an illustrious college football career: playing in The Rose Bowl.

He would star in the movies, starting with his role as a great American hero, naturally, in �The Bob Mathias Story.� Portions of the 1954 movie were filmed in Tulare.

Mathias would serve as in the Marine Corps and as a Goodwill Ambassador overseas.

In 1966 he would be elected as a Valley representative in Congress, where he would serve four terms.

And these are only the highlights in an unparalleled life of achievements, all of which started in Tulare, where he was born as the second of four children to Dr. Charles Mathias and his wife, Lillian.

Bob Mathias Stadium, the football home for both Tulare high schools, was dedicated in the Olympian�s name in 1977 and is just a mere hint to how revered and respected he is in the community.

Mathias history is a major section of the Tulare Historical Museum, which contains his medals, military uniforms, family scrapbooks and more.

He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Gwen; brothers Dr. Eugene Mathias of Tulare and Jim Mathias of Three Rivers; sister, Patricia Guerrero of Tulare; daughters Romel of Twaine Harte, Megan of Colorado Springs, Colo., Marissa of Folsom and Alyse Alexander of Medford, Ore.; and son Reiner of Sandy, Utah.

Look for special coverage in Monday�s Times-Delta and online at www.VisaliaTimesDelta.com.

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A tremendous loss for Tulare County. Without a doubt, Bob Mathias was the greatest athlete to ever come out of the county. Hard to imagine, even in the sports crazed world that we live in, of a 18-year old, with very little training, winning the gold medal in the decathelon in the Olympics. Wow.

Posted: Sat Sep 02, 2006 6:59 pm

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Originally published September 2, 2006

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Olympic gold medalist and Tulare native Bob Mathias died Saturday.

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