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Tue, 08.04.1936

A Stunning Victory at the Olympic Games

Woodruff in Berlin

*On this date in 1936, “the most daring move seen in track” happened at the Olympic games.  It was here that John Woodruff won the 800-meters Gold Medal in Berlin.

On the race day, Woodruff ran against Canada, Italy England, and Australia. England got the lead at the start, with Woodruff second, over the first lap, followed closely by two other Brits.  As they went to the second lap backstretch, Woodruff took the lead only for an instant, as England’s runner (who had run in two previous Olympics) moved around him.  As a young beginner runner, against the experienced veteran runners led to Woodruff being boxed in.

But as the field neared the final turn, Woodruff made a move that caused the crowd to gasp, a reposition that the New York Herald-Tribune, called “the most daring move seen on a track.” Woodruff came to a complete stop, let the other runners get around him, and then moved to the outside two lanes.  This young Black man shifted out into the third lane and was last in the pack. From the third lane, he got around everybody and took control of the race.

He charged to the finish line with his long, lengthening stride, until with one final burst of speed he took the lead and held it to the tape in 1:52.9, beating out Italy and Canada.  Afterwards Woodruff said, “I felt I had to do something drastic, for I couldn't break between the two leaders because I could have been disqualified on a foul.” At the time it was the first time in 24 years the United States had an 800 Gold Medal.


Heinz History

Connellsville Area Historical Society
Connellsville, Fayette County,
Southwestern Pennsylvania

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