At 5-foot-6 and 130 pounds, he was often called “Little Jimmy Beatty” in the sports pages of North Carolina newspapers.
But make no mistake, his accomplishments were big – and none more so than what happened on Feb. 10, 1962 in the Los Angeles Times Indoor Games. That’s when Beatty ran a 3:58.9 mile to become the first person in the world to break the four-minute barrier on an indoor track.
In recognition of Beatty’s record-breaking performance at that meet, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame has selected him as its February Member of the Month. He was inducted in the NCSHOF’s first class in 1963, and it’s easy to see why.
After all, Beatty’s 1962 season was nothing short of phenomenal. He ran even faster at the national championships with a 3:57.9 mile outdoors, the first sub-four minute mile ever at that meet.
Beatty would end up breaking 11 U.S. records and three world records in 1962. He was also the first to hold the 1,500 meters, mile, 3,000 meters, 3-mile and 5,000 meters American marks at the same time – and to make that even more impressive, he set those records in a 16-day span.
Oh, and Beatty also owned the two-mile world record of 8:29.8 in 1962.
For his stellar season, Beatty earned the James E. Sullivan Award that is given each year to the top amateur athlete in the United States.
Beatty was born in Manhattan but he moved to Charlotte, N.C., before he started elementary school and the 84-year-old still makes his home there. According to his biography on the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources website, Beatty first was drawn to boxing and started running on his newspaper route to train.
He knew he was fast, though, and according to the NCDCR website, Beatty won the state high school championship in the mile a mere month after running in his first race. He ran track at UNC-Chapel Hill and earned All-American honors at 2 miles in 1955 and ’57 and the 5,000 meters in 1966.
Interestingly, Beatty’s best mile time at UNC, where he won the Atlantic Coast Conference title at that distance in 1955 and ’56, was 4:06. He moved to California in 1959, though, to train with noted Hungarian distance coach Mihaly Igloi and ran the 5,000 meters at Olympics in Rome the following year.
Beatty’s competitive career ended in 1965, the year after he stepped on a rusty piece of metal and ended up having 27 stitches. “I knew that it was over,” Beatty said of the accident in a 2002 New York Times article.
Beatty, who was inducted into the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1990, thrived in the business world and also has been active in a variety of charities in the Charlotte area. He spent six years in the N.C. legislature but lost a bid to win a seat in the United States Congress.
''If you feel a certain energy in yourself, if you believe in yourself, you can do all things,'' he told the Times. ''I've had an opportunity to give back to society in various ways. I'm grateful I've been able to do that.''