Oak tree to honor legacy of CSU Olympic champion

Glenn Morris oak
Glenn Morris, right, presented his Olympic oak to CSU President Charles Lory, center, in 1936.

A living piece of CSU history, connected to a man once dubbed “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” will take up permanent residence outside the new Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center.

An oak tree – a direct descendent of the trees given to gold medalists at the 1936 Berlin Games – will be planted at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, during a ceremony on the northeast corner of the new stadium. CSU alumnus Glenn Morris won the decathlon competition in 1936 and was given an oak tree along with his gold medal for his world record-breaking performance.

Training for gold

Morris, a standout in football and track at CSU (then known as Colorado A&M), grew up in poverty in tiny Simla, Colo., before being inspired by competition at the 1932 Los Angeles Games to become an Olympian. He decided to try his hand at the 10-event decathlon, and began training with legendary CSU football and track coach Harry Hughes.

Glenn Morris gold medal
The gold medal won by Glenn Morris at the 1936 Berlin Games.

Morris competed in just three decathlons – all of them in 1936. He broke the American record at the Kansas Relays in the spring, then broke the world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials two months later. He then shattered his own world record in Berlin, becoming an overnight international sensation. His record total of 7,900 points stood for 14 years.

Morris had a brief Hollywood career, starring as Tarzan in a feature film, and played one season in the NFL before a leg injury ended his career. He then served in the Navy during World War II. Morris died in 1974 at age 61 of congestive heart failure.

Missing legacy

The whereabouts of the original Glenn Morris Oak are unknown. He presented it to CSU President Charles Lory during a ceremony in 1936, but there are no records of it ever being planted on campus.

The new tree is a direct descendent tree donated by Olympic historian Don Holst in 2010, who collected acorns from one of the three surviving original oaks in the U.S. This tree was nurtured by Tim Buchanan, city forester for the City of Fort Collins.

New Olympic oak tree
This second-generation oak tree, nurtured by City Forester Tim Buchanan, will be planted outside the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center.

“We are thrilled to have this living piece of history located just outside the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center,” said Kristi Bohlender, executive director of the CSU Alumni Association. “Glenn Morris was one of our greatest alumni and brought great fame to the University. Having this Olympic oak – a tree that represents strength and endurance – will be a fitting tribute to his legacy.”

Legendary athlete

Morris remains one of CSU’s most decorated athletes. He was named the Sullivan Award winner in 1936 at the top amateur athlete in America. He was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the CSU Sports Hall of Fame. The fieldhouse on the east side of campus where he trained for the Olympics was named the Glenn Morris Fieldhouse in 2011.

The Morris story, including his relationship with German filmmaker Leni Rieifenstahl, was told in a Terry Frei novel, Olympic Affair.

Public invited to planting

The planting ceremony is free and open to the public and precedes the Football Friday celebration from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Smith Alumni Center.