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Thomas Lionel Hill (1949–)

Thomas Lionel Hill is a track and field star, who, as a student at Arkansas State University (ASU), was ranked number one in the world in the high hurdles by Track and Field News. After graduating from ASU, he claimed the bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1972 Olympic Games.

Tom Hill was born on November 17, 1949, in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of five sons of Mattie Hill, who was a domestic worker. He grew up in the Magnolia Housing Project and attended Walter L. Cohen High School in New Orleans. In high school, Hill participated in track and field, competing particularly in the high jump and long jump. As a senior, he took third place in the high jump and the long jump in state championships.

After graduating from high school in 1967, Hill accepted an athletic scholarship to ASU in Jonesboro (Craighead County). At ASU, coaches steered him to the 110-meter/120-yard high hurdles, and he quickly developed into one of the nation’s top competitors. In 1968, Hill won the first of four Southland Conference titles and finished fifth in the 110-meter hurdles in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) outdoor track and field championships.

Hill had his finest year as a high hurdler in 1970. After winning the sixty-yard hurdles at the NCAA indoor track and field championships, he won the 120-yard hurdles at the United States Track and Field Federation Championships in Wichita, Kansas. (While his winning time of 13.2 seconds equaled the world record, his winning time of 13.1 in the semifinals would have been a new world record had it not been wind-aided.) Despite a fifth-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles at the NCAA outdoor championships, Hill won the 120-yard hurdles at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championships in the meet record time of 13.3 seconds. That summer, he won five of six races in Europe and, on December 4, 1970, tied the indoor world record of 7.5 seconds for the sixty-meter hurdles in West Berlin, West Germany. At the end of year, Track and Field News ranked Hill number one in the world in the high hurdles.

Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1970, Hill joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at ASU, which enabled him to complete his college education before joining the military as a commissioned officer. He spent most of 1971 recovering from a knee injury sustained after his world-record-equaling performance in Germany. Returning to competition in 1972, Hill won his semifinal heat in 110-meter hurdles in the NCAA championships in a meet record time of 13.3, but he finished second in the final. Representing the U.S. Army at the Olympic trials, he won the 110-meter hurdles, defeating Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist, who placed second, and Rod Milburn, 1971’s world premier hurdler, who finished third. At the Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany, Hill finished third and garnered the bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles.

Hill graduated from ASU with a BS in physical education in 1972. As a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, he served four years at the Military Academy in West Point, New York, developing and implementing a training program for the track and field team. Continuing to compete in the high hurdles, Hill won a second AAU title in 1973, matching his career best time of 13.2 for the 120-yard hurdles. He won the sixty-yard hurdles at the AAU indoor championships in 1974, and established an indoor world record of 7.3 in the sixty-meter hurdles in Moscow, Soviet Union, on March 2, 1974. After winning a third AAU title in the 110-meter hurdles in 1976, Hill seemed to be on his way to making a second Olympic team that year, but he knocked down several hurdles and finished last in the Olympic trials final.

After retiring from competition in 1977, Hill pursued a career in college counseling and administration. While in the military, he had graduated from the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University in Brookville, New York, with a Master of Science in counselor education in 1976. That same year, he retired from the army as a captain and entered the University of Florida in Gainesville to pursue a PhD in counselor education. After graduating in 1985, Hill worked as the assistant athletic director for student life at Tulane University in New Orleans and at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. In 1993, he became the dean for student services at the University of Florida and, since 1997, has served as the senior vice president for student affairs at Iowa State University in Ames.

In 1987, Hill and his wife of sixteen years, Billye, divorced; they reconciled and remarried in 2008. Their sons, Thomas and Kevin, played basketball at Duke University and the University of Texas, respectively.

For additional information:
“Dr. Thomas Hill.” African American Museum of Iowa. http://www.blackiowa.org/education/childrens-oral-history-project/stories/dr-thomas-hill/ (accessed August 15, 2014).

McGill, Steve. “Takin’ it Back to ’72, Through the Eyes of Tom Hill.” Hurdles First. http://hurdlesfirstbeta.com/free-articles/stories/takin-back-72-eyes-tom-hill/ (accessed August 15, 2014).

Raney, Jared. “The Unseen Life of Tom Hill.” Ethos Magazine, February 6, 2014. http://ethosmagazine.org/2014/the-unseen-life-of-tom-hill/ (accessed August 15, 2014).

“Throwback Thursday: Thomas Hill.” Arkansas State Red Wolves. http://www.astateredwolves.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=208717561 (accessed August 15, 2014).

“Tom Hill.” SportsReference.com. http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/hi/tom-hill-1.html (accessed August 15, 2014).

Adam R. Hornbuckle
Spring Hill, Tennessee

Last Updated 10/6/2014

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