Meredith “Flash” Gourdine
Sport: Track & Field
Born: September 26, 1929
Died: November 20, 1998
Meredith Charles Gourdine was born September 26, 1929 in Newark. Meredith’s family moved across the Hudson during the Depression after his father found work in Brooklyn as a janitor and painter. Meredith was a spectacular student, mastering topics in math and science far beyond his grade level. He also excelled in sports, demonstrating great speed and jumping ability. The long-legged six-footer didn’t join the Brooklyn Technical High School track team until his senior year, but he was almost unbeatable as a swimmer.
Meredith received a swimming scholarship from the University of Michigan. He turned it down after being admitted to Cornell University, where he managed to pay his own way. At Cornell, Meredith flourished as an engineering student and came into his own as a track & field athlete. His specialties were the long jump and low hurdles, and he was also the fastest runner on the squad. At the 1951 Intercollegiate Athletic Association meet, Meredith won the long jump with a career-best mark of 25’ 9 ¾” and also the 220-yard hurdles. At the 1952 NCAA Track & Field Championships, Cornell arrived with a grand total of 5 athletes. They finished second to USC, which had 36. By this time, sportswriters were calling him Flash Gourdine.
Meredith was one of the country’s three world-class long jumpers. At the AAU finals, he finished second to George Brown and just ahead of Jerome Biffle. A week later, Meredith edged both in the Olympic Trials. At the Summer Games in Helsinki, he finished four centimeters short of Biffle’s gold-medal jump to win a silver medal. Meredith later admitted that those centimeters haunted him the rest of his life; he’d rather have lost by a foot.
After graduating from Cornell, Meredith joined the Navy and later worked in the Jet Propulsion Lab at the California Institute of Technology. In 1960, he received his Ph.D. in Engineering Physics from Cal Tech and went into private industry. A few years later he founded a research and development company, Gourdine Systems in Livingston, and over the next two decades he founded companies that produced 70 patents—including a method of generating electricity from low-grade coal, a high-powered paint spray and a device that clears fog from airport runways. He also owned Energy Innovations in Houston. Meredith suffered from diabetes in his 60s and endured multiple strokes and a loss of sight. He passed away in Houston at the age of 69.