For nearly six decades, May 25, 1963, was the best day and the worst day of Phil Shinnick’s life.
That night at the Modesto Relays in Central California, Shinnick made a giant leap that could have — and should have — propelled him into the record books.
Shinnick, a 20-year-old University of Washington sophomore, made the long jump of his life, traveling 27 feet, 4 inches. It was nearly 2 feet farther than he had ever jumped.
Farther than any human had ever jumped.
It was a world record jump, breaking the record of 27-3¼ that had been set the year before by Igor Ter-Ovanesyan of the Soviet Union. But then it wasn’t.
There was no wind reading recorded for Shinnick’s jump, and even though officials agreed the jump was not wind-aided and should be submitted as a world record, it wasn’t.
So Shinnick didn’t get the record but carried on and earned fame on and off the track.
He competed in the long jump in the 1964 Olympics, made the U.S. national team in the decathlon and was an alternate in the 1968 Olympics.
Shinnick also was a peaceful political activist and spent two months in prison in the 1970s for not cooperating with a grand jury investigating the Patty Hearst case. He’s an author, taught medicine in college and has been a successful acupuncturist in New York for more than two decades — and is still working full time at 78.
But Shinnick never got over the injustice of being denied his world record. He didn’t like being known as the ”hard-luck kid.” So he fought for years to get his jump recognized; and 58 years later, vindication came.
In May, Shinnick received a letter telling him his jump was indeed a world record. The record book now shows that for 15½ months the long jump record was held by Phil Shinnick, one of 12 people in the past 100 years to achieve that.
What the record book doesn’t show is Shinnick’s journey to get justice.
“I did this because I couldn’t deny it was the best day in my life and I wouldn’t accept that it was the worst day,” Shinnick said. “I could never accept that because it wasn’t, but it was the worst in the sense that truth was denied.”
For 58 years.
Becoming a Husky
Shinnick grew up in Spokane, and excelled as a runner, jumper, basketball player and everything else he tried. At 6 feet 4, he was a track and basketball star at Gonzaga Prep, and accepted a scholarship to do both for Washington State.
But a few days before he was to leave for Washington State, a group of eight Husky athletes, including football captain Norm Dicks and basketball captain Dale Easley — fraternity brothers of Phil’s brother, Nelson — went to Spokane to ask Phil why he was going to WSU.
“Because my brother and I never get along,” Shinnick said he told them. “They said, ‘We guarantee you your brother will treat you good.’ So I switched to the University of Washington. It was the best experience I ever had with my brother.”
Shinnick quickly became a track and field standout for UW, but no one could have predicted what happened May 25, 1963.
It was no surprise the long jump record was set that hot night, but people were expecting it to by Ralph Boston, the 1960 Olympic gold medal winner who had set the world record three times before.
Meet officials gathered at the long jump to watch Boston jump.
Boston did not have a record jump, but a few minutes later, Shinnick did.
“My right foot was 27-11, my left was 27-5,” Shinnick said. “They kept remeasuring it and it went down to 27-4.”
Still a world record, or so Shinnick thought.
Some published reports said the meet’s only wind gauge was turned off for Shinnick’s jump. Other reports have said the gauge was being used for the 220-yard junior college hurdles race. Shinnick contends that it was turned on, but a number was never recorded.
Whatever the truth, there was no wind reading. Had there been one, there would not have been any question whether Shinnick’s jump was a world record. Not having a wind reading made it much more complicated.
At that time, the absence of a wind measurement was not a disqualifying factor for setting a world record if seven meet officials concluded the jump was not wind-aided (a tail wind of 2 meters per second, or 4.47 mph).
“All seven or eight of the officials, they voted to accept it.” Shinnick said.
But Shinnick’s record jump was not submitted by the meet director, Tom Moore. Shinnick didn’t know why at the time — he learned later — but knew he didn’t have the record.
That did not sit well with John Chaplin, a Washington State senior sprinter who had been near the long jump runway during Shinnick’s attempt.
“There was a cross wind — not a tail wind — and I had no doubt whatsoever (that it was a valid jump), and if I did, I would have said so,” said Chaplin, who went on to become the longtime track coach at Washington State, and later would be instrumental in Shinnick getting his mark recognized by U.S. Track and Field. “Ralph Boston had no problem with (Shinnick’s jump) either. He got beat fair and square.”
Shinnick was not a one-hit wonder, competing at the highest levels for several more years, including in the long jump at the 1964 Olympics, and was inducted into the Husky Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.
But there was much more in his life than sports. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public policy at UW and a doctorate in social psychology at UC Berkeley.
Shinnick was an anti-war social activist, championed the cause of Black athletes and organized peace delegations of athletes to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. He also founded Athletes United for Peace.
At Berkeley, he and his activist friends — including Jack Scott, who in 1974 helped kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst and other Symbionese Liberation Army members elude police — caught the attention of the FBI.
“I got a subpoena in San Francisco, and they wanted me to give names of my Berkeley radical comrades,” Shinnick said. “I am not going to name names. You are going to have to put me in prison for the rest of my life. I will never give up my brothers. Never.”
In 1976, a grand jury in Pennsylvania issued a subpoena to Shinnick, wanting to question him on what he knew about the Pennsylvania farmhouse where Hearst had hidden before she was captured in 1975. Shinnick didn’t refuse to answer questions but would not agree to provide hair and handwriting samples, fearing that he would be framed.
So Shinnick was found in contempt and spent two months in the Allenwood prison in Pennsylvania.
“It was one of the best experiences I have had in my life, being in prison,” Shinnick said. “Basically, I was the priest, where everyone confessed their crimes to me because they knew under no conditions would I ever give anyone up. Some people were in prison because they were framed, some made a mistake, some were connivers, but even the gangsters and the mafia would come to my bed and discuss all the stuff they were doing. I was protected in prison … all the people at Allenwood were so friendly to me. It was like being in a home for me.”
Shinnick said the harassment from FBI and CIA didn’t stop after his release.
“From the time the SLA thing happened, I was trailed all over the world and they did everything they could to destroy my life.” Shinnick said. “When I went into medicine (in 1984), all the FBI and CIA harassment stopped. So I have essentially been left alone for more than 35 years.”
Permission to fight
Shinnick was being honored at a full Husky Stadium in 1992 for his induction into the Husky Hall of Fame, but his head was down. Shinnick’s father asked what was wrong.
“I said I wasn’t happy with the world record (being denied),” Shinnick said. “He said, ‘You better do something about it.’ He gave me permission to do it. Until then, I thought it was sort of an ego thing, and you don’t want to get into yourself too much. He gave me permission to fight it.”
Then-UW athletic director Barbara Hedges wrote a letter — with Shinnick’s help — in 1996 to U.S. Track and Field pleading Shinnick’s case. But it wasn’t until 2003 and Chaplin was head of the U.S. Track and Field Executive Committee, that Shinnick’s jump was recognized as the national record.
“I had to beat a lot of people with a club,” Chaplin said of getting the record recognized by U.S. Track and Field. “We sent it to the committee for records, and they denied it, and I said that is unsatisfactory. We can overrule you, and we are going to overrule you. It was a record.”
Eighteen years later, it was recognized as a world record. Shinnick said a letter from University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and athletic director Jen Cohen to IAAF president Sebastian Coe was crucial.
“That letter triggered the whole thing,” Shinnick said. “Without that letter, this wouldn’t have happened. What they did was very significant, and it caused Seb Coe to take action.”
Last year, Coe referred the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
When Shinnick made his case, he emphasized that in 1963 a wind reading was not required for a world record if there were seven officials who vouched for it. Shinnick had that, including a letter from Moore, the Modesto Relays meet official who had not submitted the record.
“When I talked to Tom Moore six months before he died (in 2002), he said, ‘Phil, it was the most immoral thing I have done in my life.’ ” Shinnick said. “He told me he wanted to turn it in, but that (an AAU administrator) told him if he turned the record in, the meet wouldn’t be sanctioned anymore. He said he always regretted that, and wrote a letter to World Athletics specifying that.”
Arbiter Hugh Fraser sided with Shinnick. The world record was his.
“The University of Washington has always strongly supported the USATF determination that Phil Shinnick’s long jump mark, achieved on May 25, 1963, was a legally recorded record-setting jump, and are pleased that Phil is now receiving the recognition he deserves as his mark has been declared a long jump world record by World Athletics,” UW athletics said in a statement. “We are proud of Phil’s great accomplishment and are celebrating alongside him.”
So is Chaplin.
“He got his record, but it took a long time,” Chaplin said. “It was real long, and it’s really unforgivable but at least a serious error has been corrected, which is most important.”
Shinnick’s world record was to be recognized with a plaque presented by current long jump world-record holder Mike Powell in a nationally televised ceremony June 27 at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
“I thought, ‘This is fantastic, for once it will be spread across the world, and they are going to announce it,’” Shinnick said.
Because of the extreme heat, the ceremony was postponed just as Shinnick and his family were set to walk on to the field. Eugene hit an all-time high of 111 degrees that day.
Five hours later, Shinnick received his plaque in a quiet, untelevised ceremony.
“So my premonition is right, there are forces in the world that are beyond humans that taunt history,” he said.
Shinnick said after living 58 years feeling dishonored, it has been hard to condition himself to feel differently, to feel happy about it. But he is trying to get there.
“I do like it when people say congratulations,” he said.
And he likes that he no longer lives with a nagging injustice.
“What I really wanted to do was bring the truth out,” he said. “Isn’t that the point of justice?”