Bud Held started as a pole vaulter at Grossmont High School near San Diego, where he finished in a 3 way tie for 4th place at the 1946 CIF California State Meet. He switched to the javelin while a student at Stanford University, where he won the NCAA javelin championship in 1948, 1949, and 1950. Held won the AAUUSA Outdoor Track and Field Championships six times, 1949, 1951, 1953 to 55 and 1958. Held set six American records in the javelin, and in 1953 became the first American to hold the world javelin record with an effort of 263 feet 10 inches (80.42 m); in so doing, Held became the first athlete ever to throw the 800 gram javelin over 80 meters. He set a second world record of 268 feet 2 inches (81.74 m) in 1955, and his career best throw was 270 feet 0 inches (82.30 m) in 1956.
Held continues to compete in masters competitions. In 1970, Held set a United States national masters javelin record of 229 feet 3 inches (69.88 m). On October 4, 2008 at the Club West Masters Track meet in Santa Barbara, Held set the age 80+ World Record in the pole vault adding to the M75 World Record he already holds. He is also ranked in the discus. He also coaches his live-in partner Nadine O'Connor, who holds the women's 65+ pole vault world record, among numerous other track and field records.
After his retirement from standard competition, Held became a successful sporting equipment businessman. He founded Ektelon, inventing the world's first aluminum tennis racquet and its related stringing equipment from his San Diego garage, then subsequently the first aluminum racquetball racquet. He also invented a hollow javelin that was used into the 1960s, but his design was later outlawed due to safety concerns.
The 1920, 1928, 1932, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 championships incorporated the Olympic Trials, otherwise held as a discrete event.
Ken Churchill had the longest throw in the 1932 competition (which doubled as the Olympic Trials), ahead of Malcolm Metcalf. However, Churchill qualified for the final only due to a late rule change by the U.S. Olympic Committee, allowing eight rather than five finalists. As this rule change applied only to the Olympic Trials, Churchill is considered to have won at the Trials and Metcalf at the national championships, even though they were the same meet.