Alumni Spotlight: Chrysostomou ’85 Finds Family in Cornell Men’s Track & Field

Christis Chrysostomou
Christis Chrysostomou

Editor’s Note: Back in the years of 1984-86, some of you may recall a husband and wife team studying to earn their Bachelors and Masters of Engineering degrees in CEE.  The below story is about that couple, Christis Chrysostomou B.S. ‘85, M.Eng. ‘86, Ph.D. ‘91 and Maria Ioannou B.S. ‘85, M.Eng. ’86, who came from Cyprus to Cornell to fulfill their educational goals.  This article was first written and published online in February 2021 by the Cornell Athletic Communications office, where Chris is recognized for his track and field accomplishments.

Because of the connection to the School of CEE, we wanted to reprint this piece to share with all CEE alumni. The plaque mentioned in the article that displays Maria’s full name (Maria N. Ioannou) is called the Fuertes Medal Undergraduates award, named after CEE Professor and head of CEE from 1873-1903, Estévan Antonio Fuertes. It is located in Hollister Hall.   

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell men’s track and field alumnus Chris Chrysostomou ’85 has an abundance of memories that accompany his accomplishments as a long and triple jumper for the Big Red from 1983-85. His fondest, however, has nothing to do with the individual accolades he achieved. Rather, it is the family that his teammates provided him with that made an everlasting impact.

With Chrysostomou hailing from Cyprus, one would argue that finding “family” in Ithaca, roughly 5,500 miles away from home, would prove to be valuable. Luckily, before Chrysostomou bonded with his track and field family, he had his wife, Maria. The couple came to Cornell together, both transferring into the College of Engineering as juniors in 1983 after receiving the equivalency of associate’s degrees in civil engineering at the Higher Technical Institute in Cyprus.

Although the academic rigor at Cornell was an adjustment from what they were accustomed to, both Chrysostomou and his wife thrived.

“The engineering program was very demanding, but we got so much out of it,” said Chrysostomou. “My wife graduated as the No. 1 in 1985 and I was No. 2.”

It’s not every day that you see a husband and wife finish first and second in their civil engineering class, let alone in a program that is among the strongest in the nation. But their success doesn’t stop there, as Chrysostomou and his wife aren’t owners of just bachelor’s degrees from Cornell. The pair also earned their Master’s of Engineering degrees together in 1986, and Chrysostomou added his Ph.D. in Structural Engineering in 1990.

Both Chrysostomou and his wife undoubtedly left their marks in the College of Engineering. Chrysostomou knew his wife’s would be indelible, as her name resides permanently on a plaque for finishing top of her class. But 35 years later, Chrysostomou’s name has withstood the test of time elsewhere - in the Big Red’s track and field record book. He just didn’t expect it at the time.

“Maria’s name is on the wall in Hollister Hall because there is a medal for every student who graduates and is ranked first,” said Chrysostomou. “I told her, ‘Well, your name is there, it’s going to be for eternity. My name is in Barton Hall, but someday it’s going to come down.’”

That day has yet to come.

To this day, Chrysostomou’s outdoor long jump leap of 26-02.00 is not only Cornell’s school record, but the Ivy League record as well. The story of the jump that won him the 1985 Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championship in the event is exhilarating, and Chrysostomou remembers it precisely.

“I tell many people this story because it’s one of those that you see in the movies, sort of an out-of-body experience,” said Chrysostomou.

Chrysostomou’s championship hopes all came down to his last jump. Although he had been leading the competition through five jumps, Yale’s Eugene Profit, who later embarked on a five-year career in the National Football League (NFL), surpassed Chrysostomou on his sixth and final jump with a distance of 26-02.00. As the final jumper of the competition and now sitting in second with one jump remaining, the pressure was on for Chrysostomou.

“I remember standing at the edge of the corridor of the long jump, with all of my teammates to my left standing outside the track, shouting, screaming, and clapping for me, because it was the last event,” said Chrysostomou. “After the silence, I just ran.”

After all, the support from his team, which became so much more than a team for Chrysostomou, was one of the factors that left him on the brink of his third Ivy League Championship. Chrysostomou was seeking his first title in the long jump, but had clinched the indoor and outdoor Ivy League Heptagonal titles in the triple jump in 1984.

“In track and field, it looks like there are individual events, but with the way it is done in the states and the team competition, it becomes a team sport,” said Chrysostomou. “Although you are relying on individual performances, except for the relays, it fosters team spirit. That’s what I got at Cornell the two years that I was there. The comradery and warm feeling of family with my teammates is something that is with me still.”

Having completed his final jump and with his “family” looking on, Chrysostomou anxiously awaited the results. The verdict – 26-02.00. A tie, or so it initially appeared.

“They measured it once, they measured it twice, they measured it three times, because it was the same distance and they wanted to make sure that they measured it correctly,” said Chrysostomou. “The judge came up to me and said, ‘Well, you have the same distance as Eugene, but you’re number one.’”

Chrysostomou was crowned the champion thanks to a longer second jump as compared to Profit’s. He couldn’t have been more ecstatic, but the greatest source of Chrysostomou’s joy wasn’t his individual title or record-breaking performance. It was the fact that, as co-captain of the 1985 squad, he helped guide his team to the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championship, the Big Red’s first at the time since 1978. Those feelings still resonate within him today.

“Although my record is still standing and I am very proud of it, what I most remember is the faces of my teammates and the faces of joy after we won the championship,” said Chrysostomou. “That was more important than any individual performance that we had that day. It was team spirit and managing to clinch what we wanted so badly, both for the coaches and the team.”

Even if his record-breaking jump wasn’t, or won’t ever be, the focal point of that day for Chrysostomou, it’s still hard to look past how impressive this feat was. Cornell’s previous outdoor long jump school record was held by Olympic silver medalist Meredith Gourdine ’53. His mark stood for 34 years before Chrysostomou shattered it, so it only seems fitting that Chrysostomou’s record has now stood for 35.

Today, Chrysostomou continues to reside in Cyprus where he serves as a Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Geomatics at Cyprus University of Technology. Over the course of his engineering career, he has specialized in earthquake engineering. Much of his work has focused on finding ways to update infrastructure, and even monuments, to increase their seismic design and their ability to withstand earthquakes.

And today, Chrysostomou continues to cherish the family that Cornell track and field provided him with. He came to Cornell with one family member, his wife Maria, and left with more family members than could be counted. Chrysostomou is richer for it, and the feeling is mutual, because the Big Red is richer for having Chrysostomou as a member of its track and field family, as well.