J. Gregory Rice was a five time national outdoor champion in track and field (1938 through 1942, 5000m) and a 1984 NYAC Hall of Fame inductee.
Joseph Gregory Rice was born on January 3rd, 1916 in Deer Lodge, MT. He attended Missoula County High School, where he was a three time state champion in the 880m and the mile.
After graduating from high school, Rice attended the University of Notre Dame. Notably, he won the national championship in the two miles in 1937 and 1939, and was a four time All American. Although Rice had an outstanding career at Notre Dame, he reached even greater heights as a member of the New York Athletic Club.
On March 9th, 1940, at the Knights of Columbus Meet in Madison Square Garden, Rice broke the world record in the two miles by almost two seconds, finishing in 8:56.2. That same month, Rice broke another world record, this time in the three miles, which he won in 13:52.3. During the race, Rice exhibited his unparalleled finishing speed for which he would be famous.
With two laps remaining, Rice was in third place, trailing Taisto Maki and Don Lash, two of the top runners in the world. Rice quickly made up ground, and, going into the final stretch of the race, the three men were even – but only for a moment. Rice pulled away with ease and won the race by a significant margin. It was his ability to finish races like a sprinter, coupled with his 5’ 5”, stocky frame, which led people to call him the “Little Dynamo.” Additionally, his outstanding performance in the 1940 season earned him the Sullivan Award, given annually to the country’s best amateur athlete.
Though lacking the Olympic pedigree of other track and field legends, Gregory Rice is nevertheless lauded by his contemporaries as one of the great runners in American history. The great Paavo Nurmi – a nine time Olympic champion – once commented that Rice “is the greatest runner the world has ever seen… He’s simply unbeatable, because nobody can run away from him and he can always finish like a sprinter.”
After retiring from competition, Rice became an official and was active in track and field throughout the rest of his life. For his service to the sport and his outstanding record, he was inducted into the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1977.
Gregory Rice passed away in 1991 at the age of 75.