CHILLICOTHE — It’s been 104 years since Chillicothe native Edward Tiffin Cook won the area’s first gold medal with a 12-foot-2 in the pole vault in the 1908 summer Olympic Games in London.

By comparison, Cook’s gold medal performance in 1908 would have fallen well short of 2012 gold medalist Renaud Lavillenie’s 19-7 pole vault. It’s that kind of disparity between then and now that has Cook’s legacy as little more than a few paragraphs in the pages of history. A short walk through the Cillicothe High School Hall of Fame, however, shows that’s where the black and white lines of history gets it wrong.

“It’s kind of a funny thing, as a track coach, to walk through the Hall of Fame and see (Cook’s plaque), said current Cavaliers girls track and cross coach Steve Semancik. “I mean, we have a lot of individuals in the Hall of Fame. But a gold medal Olympian? The fact that he’s an Olympian, as a track coach, I was just so put back and impressed by that because frankly, it’s not like there’s just a ton of them walking around.”

Cook set two national high school long jump records and tied the 100-yard dash national record four times at Chillicothe. After high school, Cook attended Cornell University where he was inducted to the athletic Hall of Fame. In between the two, Cook won two IC4A and two AAU outdoor pole vault national titles.

After college, Cook took on coaching at Oakwood High School in Dayton, where he won three state high school track meets and five district track meets.

For good measure, he also coached the football team for 13 years, finishing with three undefeated seasons. Although Cook graduated before the first high school state track meet was conducted, he proved to be more than the dominant athlete of his era long before he struck gold in London — as well a little dominance on the sideline after his playing days were over.

Now, more than a century later, Cook’s legacy of the early 1900s continues to make ripples in the region it all started in. Even if very few people can see it.

“The thing is, people don’t really talk about it,” Semancik said. “He’s been brought up before at practice with some of the pole vaulters when they realize that they are beating a former gold medalist. That’s sort of a reality check for everyone that that was a gold medal height back then. But, the thing is, as a track coach, I feel a gold medal Olympian is something that needs to be celebrated.”

Celebrated mostly because, back then, it was a completely different sport. Sure, Cook’s numbers don’t necessarily stack up to today’s. Then again, Cook was using a bamboo pole instead of modern fiberglass. He also was landing in a pile of sawdust instead of a nice, soft padded cushion.

“When you look at the athletes these days, they have better equipment, better shoes, better diets, better training. It’s just amazing to the progression of this sport,” Semancik said. “At the same time, when you realize that this guy did this with a bamboo pole and was landing is some sawdust, it just makes this feat incredibly impressive.

“Some kid’s dream of a league championship, some strive for districts or state championships. By my god, as an Olympian, you’re the best of the best. Doesn’t matter the sport or time, you’re the best in the world.”

by: Scott Richards


Edward Tiffin Cook
Edward Tiffin Cook


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