Media Life: Auburn’s mystery Olympian served as U.S. ambassador to South Africa in 1970s

John Hurd won Olympic fencing team berth; Placer’s winter Olympic team delegation has scored medals in the past
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With the Winter Olympic Games heading into the homestretch in Vancouver, it’s a good time to talk about Auburn’s little-known Olympian. By most counts, Auburn would have three games participants – 2000 high-jump gold medalist Stacy Dragila, 1932 and 1936 ski jumper Roy Mikkelsen, and Jeff Hamilton, who won a bronze at the 1992 Olympiad. The three are well-known and well written about. Dragila and Hamilton are Placer High grads and Mikkelsen – who was an Auburn resident at the time of the 1936 games in Germany – served as mayor in the 1950s. But there is a fourth Auburn Olympian, Media Life found out this past week, thanks to reader John Knox. Knox forwarded an article headlined “Auburn has another Olympic Games entry” that appeared in a May 1936 edition of the Placer Herald. It states that “John G. Hurd, son of Dr. and Mrs. Eugene Hurd of Auburn, will represent Auburn, California and America in the fencing contests at the Olympic Games.” From Harvard to Berlin The story went on to say that Hurd was attending Harvard Law School that year and had just qualified for the Berlin Olympics by eliminating 65 others in a three-day qualifying tournament. The Herald writer describes Hurd as 22 and a Harvard graduate. A Web search turned up more about Hurd, who wouldn’t win a medal in Germany but would go on to lead an accomplished life in his adopted home state of Texas. The Harvard Law Bulletin, reporting on his death in San Antonio in 2001, wrote that after captaining the Harvard fencing team and competing in the 1936 Olympics, Hurd would earn his law degree. He didn’t rest on his laurels. During his days at Harvard, he served as a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps and that served him in good stead when he enlisted and went on active duty in the Navy in 1941. He would rise to the rank of commander and receive a Bronze Star for his work on destroyer escorts in the North Atlantic. After the war, Hurd would play a leading role in the Texas oil industry. His father-in-law, O.W. Killam made the first commercial oil discovery in South Texas in 1921. He joined Killam’s two sons in a partnership that would last more than three decades. Hurd also rose to important political posts in Texas, attending both the 1964 and 1968 Republican national conventions as a delegate and serving as chairman of the Texas Nixon For President Committee in 1968. Two years later, the independent oil producer and cattle rancher was appointed U.S. ambassador to South Africa. He’d serve at that post for five years. Legacy lives on in Texas Today, Hurd’s business enterprises are carried on by his children. San Antonio’s Hurd Enterprises is involved in real estate and ranching as well as oil and gas exploration. At this point, Media Life is hoping to make a stronger Auburn connection in a future story. It appears that Dr. Eugene Hurd – John Hurd’s father – was a surgeon in World War I. The elder Hurd died in 1941. But why he was living in Auburn at the time of the 1936 Olympics still has to be determined. And a check of Placer High graduates shows that John Hurd wasn't an alumni of the Auburn school. We have some leads, so keep watching for more on Auburn’s mystery Olympian. And if you have any information yourself, you can contact Media Life at Or phone 530-852-0232. Placer gold at Olympics Speaking of Olympians, it’s really no surprise that while Auburn has had less than a handful, Placer County can take pride in having dozens of residents who were Winter Games participants. The Torino, Italy Winter Games four years ago was a high point for Placer’s Olympic participation, with 12 locals skiing or snowboarding. Placer also struck Olympic gold that year, with Hannah Teter winning the halfpipe competition and Julia Mancuso besting the field in the giant slalom. The 1952 Olympics in Oslo, Norway also was a time of local pride, with Andrea Mead Lawrence picking up two golds – in the slalom and giant slalom. Along the Olympic trail, three Placer County skiers – Greg Jones (1976, combined skiing), Jimmie Heuga (1964, slalom) and Hamilton in 1992 – have been awarded bronze medals.