Lloyd Bourgeois – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame

Track and Field, 1926-32
1928 Olympics/Loyola University

Inducted: 1978

Lloyd Bourgeois was the first native New Orleanian to represent the United States in Olympic competition. He was a member of the 1928 United States Olympic team, which competed in Belgium and France, in the hop, step and jump (now known as the triple jump).

He followed his Olympic competition days by lettering in track at Loyola from 1930-32, specializing in the hop, step and jump.

Born January 24, 1903 in New Orleans, Bourgeois was inducted into the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame in 1965. He died on September 19, 1968 in Baton Rouge.

[Reprinted from the Times-Picayune, by Peter Finney, 7/12/12]

For Lloyd Bourgeois, the journey of the first native New Orleanian to represent the U.S. in the Olympic Games got its start by climbing trees and jumping fire plugs in the neighborhood, then made headlines in the Times-Picayune with a triple-jump of 47 feet, 5 inches. New Orleanian Lloyd Bourgeois competed for the U.S. in the triple jump in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, although he did not focus on the event until late.

All of which was good enough for Bourgeois, 24, to win a trip to Amsterdam on the S.S. President Roosevelt for the 1928 Olympics, good enough to make him, in the eyes of many, one of the longest of long shots to make it to the Games.

Bourgeois was no born-to-succeed talent. In fact, at the time, he was a relative newcomer to what became his specialty, to track-and-field, which he did not focus on until his “grown-up” days.

When he showed up in Amsterdam, there was good reason to look on Lloyd Bourgeois as “grown up.”

He had a full-time job with the Southern Pacific Railroad.

He had a wife and two children, a marriage with one of those made-in-Hollywood scripts.

“Lloyd and I were childhood sweethearts,” gushed wife Myrtle as her husband became a sudden celebrity. “I married the boy next door. He was my first and only beau, and I was his first and only sweetheart. Since those days, we dreamed of a home of our own and having children. All that we hoped for has come true.”

As far as the far-flung Bougeois family is concerned, the dream remains chiseled in print today.

“I love going through the scrapbooks,” said Diane Rabin, Lloyd’s granddaughter. “The fact Lloyd’s athletic abilities were not recognized until he was already 20 years old makes him unique, to say the least. He remained an enthusiastic sports spectator to the end of his life. A wonderful husband, father, provider, for his family as president of the Dixie Vending Company. He always considered his four children and 27 grandchildren his greatest accomplishment.”

Lloyd Bourgeois watched his son, Bobby, grow up sprinting and high jumping in grammar school as he served as a volunteer official for NORD track meets in City Park Stadium.

“I didn’t make headlines until I was 24,” Lloyd liked to say. “Bobby made the front page when he was 6 months old. And he didn’t have to jump out of the cradle to do it. He simply swallowed a safety pin.”

Doctors decided to let nature, and the pin, take their course. It wasn’t long before Bobby was setting all kinds of records in elementary school competition, all the while listening to dad tell stories about how it was to be part of an Olympic team that had two Tarzans, Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe, and how it was to have a one-star general named Douglas MacArthur as president of the Olympic delegation.

Did Lloyd think Bobby had a shot to make the Olympics?

“Not in the hop-step,” said Lloyd. “His legs are too short.”

Did Bobby have a bad habit?

“Yes,” said dad. “It’s drinking. He has a weakness for the bottle. Not hard stuff. Soft drinks. He likes to drink before every race. He says it gives him pains in the stomach. It gives me a pain in the neck.”

After failing to win a medal in Amsterdam, Lloyd Bourgeois returned home with no excuses.

“I wasn’t good enough,” he said after finishing eighth in a field of 65 despite a career-best triple-jump of 47 feet, 9 ½ inches.

For the best jumper in the world, it was a crap shoot – especially for the defending champion, and world record holder, who failed to qualify.

The 65 entrants were placed in two pits, 33 in one, 32 in the other. Each contestant was allowed three trials, but no practice jumps, no run-through. After the 65 had three trials, the six best were chosen as finalists. Snakey Bowman of Hammond nosed out Bourgeois to finish in seventh place with a jump of 47 feet, 11 inches.

“We only had one jump each,” said Bourgeois. “I missed my takeoff twice. Then I made my best jump ever. Snakey got a raw deal. When his time came, he asked a judge if he could take a practice run to get his stride. The judge nodded. The same thing happened a second time. That’s when someone came up to remind Snakey he had used two jumps. That he had only one jump left. He realized the judge didn’t understand a word of English. Then Snakey made the best jump of his life.”

Just one more Olympic memory.

Ask Keith Bourgeois, Lloyd’s grandson, for a memory, and Keith goes back to the time he took his dad to Amsterdam for a visit to the site of the 1928 Games.

“It was a great trip,” said Keith. “We spent some time in Geneva, we visited Lake Como in Italy, and we saw the sights. Getting to see where my grandfather competed was special. I couldn’t stop shooting pictures.”

Turned out Keith’s camera was still rolling when he and his dad decided to take a look at Amsterdam’s Red Light district, a spot where prostitution is legal, but taking pictures is a no-no. It’s bad for business.

“I’m shooting away,” said Keith. “All of a sudden, this young girl is grabbing my camera, drawing a crowd that gets larger and larger. I grab my camera back, and me and my dad take off, moving as fast as we can. We wound up finding refuge in a bar where we stayed until things quieted down. I’ll never forget Amsterdam. My grandfather had great memories.”

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