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June 6, 2014

Long jump gold medal Olympian launches festivities

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute native Greg Bell knows what it takes to win amid the best athletes in the world.

On Friday, he encouraged more than 2,500 athletes in the 45th annual Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games to preserver.

Bell claimed the gold medal in the long jump at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. He grew up in Terre Haute and graduated from Garfield High School. He went on to become a dentist and opened his first practice on Wabash Avenue in Terre Haute before moving to Logansport to serve as director of dentistry at Logansport State Hospital.  

Bell said he was born about 10 miles south of Hulman Center “in a chicken house, a literal chicken house” which had been converted into a family home. “I make that comment so that you know you don’t have to be born up on top. There are possibilities,” he said in a reception prior to the ceremony.

Bell said it takes support and encouragement to compete and win.

“There is not limit to what you can do,” he said.

At the summer games opening ceremony at Hulman Center, on the campus of Indiana State University, he shared with the athletes a poem he wrote.

“There seems to be no limit to what a man can do if he is buoyed up by the current of a ‘I believe in you.’ You can climb the highest mountain, swim the widest sea,” Bell said.

“He can be whatever person he believes himself to be. Now when I say a man can do these things, I hope you know that a woman too can match a man and go where he can go. I am speaking of mankind and of what this team can do if they both support each other with ‘I believe in you,’’ Bell said.

“It is amazing how a person, though he thinks himself so small, when he knows someone is behind him can dig down and give his all. And sometimes surprise himself with what he can now do. He has found his well of strength from an ‘I believe in you,’” Bell said.

“…and you know you owe the thanks for these dreams that were to come true to the faith of all people who said ‘I believe in you,’” Bell said.

Bell said his top supporter was Terre Haute physician Dr. William Bannon, who encouraged him to enroll at Indiana University. It was during his sophomore year that Bell claimed the Olympic gold medal. Bell graduated from Indiana University in 1961.

Throughout his college career, Bell was undefeated in the long jump, winning three NCAA championships. Rated the world's best long jumper three times, Bell wound up with a total of 13 26-foot long jumps, the most by any long jumper in history up to that time. Bell was also second in the 1959 Pan American Games and competed in the USA-USSR dual meet that same year.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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