Introduction of Bob Backus, presented by Mike Frisoli, Class of 1993 and Football and Track & Field Team member
Given what Bob Backus would eventually accomplish in the sport of track & field, it is hard to fathom that Bob did not begin weight-throwing until after he arrived at Tufts in the late 1940’s. According to his New York Times obituary, Bob stood at 6 feet 5 inches but was so thin that the Army Air Division dropped him from its cadet program during World War II. However, he took up weight lifting to help recover from spinal meningitis and built himself into a 290-pound strongman.
Once at Tufts, Bob quickly developed into a school record-breaker in both the shot put and hammer throw on legendary coach Ding Dussault’s track & field teams. On February 24, 1949 he shattered Tufts’ hammer throw record by a full five feet. When Tufts won the Eastern Intercollegiate Championships that same year, Backus was the hammer throw champion. And during the 1951 season, Backus set a Tufts shot put record at 44-feet, 6 ¼ inches.
As impressive as Bob’s throwing performances were at Tufts, he was just getting started. Just a year after graduating from Tufts, Bob competed in the hammer throw at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and finished in 13th place. Bob went on to win seven consecutive American titles in the 56-pound weight throw from 1953-59, seven American titles in eight years in the 35-pound weight throw from 1954-61, and one American title in the hammer throw in 1954. He also earned a gold medal in the hammer throw at the 1955 Pan American Games. Backus set world records in the 56-pound weight in 1957 (45 feet, 2 inches) and in the 35-pound weight in 1959 (66 feet, 2 ¾ inches).
Until his health declined, Bob remained active. Even at age 51, he finished second in the 35-pound weight throw in the national indoor championships. Amused at all the fuss about that achievement, Bob said at the time, ''People overdo this age thing, but I guess you could say this was a victory for the Geritol set.''
Bob passed away at age 72 on June 30, 1999. And upon his death in 1999, Bob was memorialized with an obituary in the New York Times which proclaimed him as the “World’s Best Weight Thrower.”