John R. Bakkensen (Grant, 1961)

John R. BakkensenJohn R. Bakkensen

John R. Bakkensen (Grant, 1961)
School: Grant Graduation Year: 1961

Sport Played: Track and Field

Year Inducted: 2023

High School Honors: 3 Track & Field letters. Won the PIL discus championship and set new PIL meet records in the discus throw as a Junior and Senior; 3rd in State as a Junior and first as a Senior and set a new State Meet record in 1961. Won Oregon AAU meet as a Junior with a throw of 170’8.25”, the farthest in State history among high schoolers at that time and became nationally ranked. Served as Student Body President.

Post High School Career: 4 Track & Field letters at Harvard University. Set a Harvard record in the discus and was Penn Relays Champion as a Sophomore and won the Heptagonal Championship his final three years. He also won the Heptagonal Championship (all Ivy League colleges plus Army & Navy Academies) three years in a row, placed first in the IC4A (Eastern Conference colleges) in 1964 and 1965, setting the IC4A conference meet record in 1965. He set a Harvard record of 179’9” in the 1964 USTFF Championship Meet, finishing second to Olympian Jay Sylvester. While attending Law School at Stanford he volunteered as Track & Field Coach with Head Coach Payton Jordan. His best career mark with the Olympic weight discus was 201’1” on May 8, 1971, at Central Washington University, a stadium record to this day.


I attended Grant High School from 1957 until 1961, where I was fortunate to take classes from many outstanding teachers in mathematics and the sciences, English, history and Latin. These prepared me well for college and graduate school and my eventual career in law. But I also owe much to my remarkable track and field coach Denny Sullivan. From him I learned how to train, the basic skills required for my principal event, the discus throw, the value of hard work, and the importance of teamwork. Our Grant High School track and field team won the state championship meet in Corvallis in 1961, and a lot of the credit for our success goes to Denny Sullivan. I won the discus event at the 1961 state meet and set a new state meet record. I continued with my discus career at Harvard, where I won the Heptagonal Championship meet three times, the IC4A Championship meet twice, the Penn Relays in 1963, and was second place to Jay Silvester at the 1964 USTFF Championship meet. While at Stanford Law School, I was a volunteer assistant coach for Stanford’s track coach Payton Jordan and competed for the Athens Athletic Club of Oakland. Returning to Portland in 1968, I competed for the Portland Track Club and had my lifetime best discus throw of 201 feet one inch in 1971 at Central Washington University

I was privileged to give back to Denny Sullivan during the last years of his life by offering advice to him on several subjects. My Grant teammate Butch Lumby and I visited Denny and his wife Patsy at Denny’s home by the Deschutes River south of Sunriver, where Denny had set up his own track facility on a field across the street from his home where he trained for his ten decathlon events. I also visited Denny at his winter home by the Salton Sea in southern California, where he had created a walking and jogging trail in the desert for the use of senior citizens like himself. Denny also designed and helped to construct the Pilot Butte nature trail that circles around and rises to the top of a scenic volcanic cinder cone in Bend, Oregon. Denny continued to inspire me as he set a World Masters age-group decathlon record when he was over 80. From Denny I learned the value of a lifetime of fitness.

In 2022 Butch Lumby established the Denny Sullivan Scholarship Award that will be given annually to the top male and female track and field student-athletes in the Portland School District. Last year I served with Butch and others on the selection committee for these scholarships.

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