Forrest “Spec” Towns grew up in Augusta and graduated from the Academy of Richmond County, where he played football.
He received a track scholarship to the University of Georgia after word spread of his backyard high-jumping prowess. Under the tutelage of coach Weems Baskin, Towns became a dominant high hurdler. From 1935-37, he won more than 60 consecutive races, setting the world record along the way.
In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Towns posted a time of 14.2 seconds to easily win the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles. Later in the year, he became the first person to break the 14-second barrier, recording a time of 13.7 seconds in Oslo, Norway.
Towns returned to the U.S. from the Olympics and headed straight to Athens, Ga., to participate in football practice before the Bulldogs defeated Mercer 15-6. Three days later, he returned to Augusta, where he was presented with a key to the city and a gold watch and chain by attorney James M. Hull.
Former Augusta resident Ray Mercer entered the 1988 Olympics in Seoul as a champion amateur boxer. Mercer cruised to the championship fight against South Korean Baik Hyun-Man. Mercer kept the judges from deciding his fate, knocking out Hyun-Man at the end of the first round with a right-left combination.
Mercer went on to win a pair of world heavyweight titles during his pro career, compiling a 36-7 record.
Vernon Forrest, who grew up in Augusta and honed his skills at the Augusta Boxing Club, defeated Shane Mosley in the 1992 Olympic trials to earn a spot on the U.S. team. Forrest, a gold medal favorite, fell ill with a stomach virus the day before fighting England’s Peter Richardson. Forrest lost the first round by a point, lost the second round and almost pulled out the bout, knocking Richardson down twice in the final round. It was too little, too late.
With the defeat, Forrest turned his focus to a professional career. He went 41-3, becoming a world champion in the welterweight and light middleweight classes.
After finishing fifth in the triple jump in the 1988 Olympics, Aiken’s Charlie Simpkins came back strong four years later. In the ’88 Games, the Aiken High School graduate missed the bronze medal by six inches, with a jump of 56 feet, 8 inches.
In 1992 in Barcelona, Simpkins stood in fourth place as he entered his final attempt. The hop-jumper went for it and nailed a mark of 57 feet, 9 inches to earn the silver medal, finishing behind fellow American Mike Conley.
LATASHA COLANDER CLARK
Paine College track and field coach LaTasha Colander Clark won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, then had to wait until a ruling 10 years later to learn whether she would keep it. Colander Clark was the anchor of the U.S. team’s 4x400-meter relay team when it claimed the top prize in Sydney. But in 2008, teammate Marion Jones admitted to doping. The International Olympic Committee decided to strip all the U.S. 4x400 runners of their gold medals because of Jones’ action. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the IOC’s decision.
JIM BUTLER AND AMY FENG
Jim Butler and Amy Feng each moved to Augusta in the 1990s and represented the city in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Feng earned a spot as the No. 1 women’s table tennis player in the country, while Butler, a former No. 1 men’s player who played in the 1992 Olympics and failed to advance to medal play, earned his way through team competition.
In the ’96 Olympics, Butler was eliminated in singles and doubles before making it to the medal round. Like Butler, Feng also fell short of medal competition.
Former Lakeside High School and University of Georgia shot putter Reese Hoffa is ready to bring home a medal in his third and likely final appearance in the Olympics.
In 2004, he failed to advance to the medal round. Four years later, he scratched on his final two throws and finished in seventh place.
This time, the 34-year-old appears to be in peak form. In June, he won the U.S. Olympic trials with a throw of 72 feet, 2¼ inches – a mark that would have won gold in the 2008 Olympics.
George Kitchens, a Glenn Hills graduate and All-American at Clemson, will try to bring home a medal when he competes in the long jump. He secured his spot in London by jumping a personal-best 26 feet, 111/4 inches (8.21 meters), which gave him the Olympic “A” standard and a third-place finish.
Kitchens said his goal is to post a jump of 8.95 meters – a mark that would set the Olympic long jump record and tie Mike Powell for the world record.
Kyla Ross is looking to shine as the youngest member of the U.S. gymnastics squad.
The 15-year-old, a two-time U.S. junior champion who spent time in Augusta as a youth and now lives in California, is expected to be a key contributor to her team’s success.
Kyla’s father is Jason Ross, who was a three-sport standout at Westside High School. He later played in the Atlanta Braves’ minor-league organization.
Kyla’s uncle, Joe, won two national championship titles in 1989-90 as the star fullback for Georgia Southern.