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Sat, 10.11.1924

Mal Whitfield, Athlete, and Soldier born

Mal Whitfield

*Mal Whitfield was born on this date in 1924. He was a Black track and field athlete, goodwill ambassador, and soldier.

Malvin Greston Whitfield was from Bay City, Texas. He moved to the Watts district of Los Angeles when he was 4; at that age, his father died, and his mother died when he was 12, after which his older sister raised him. He sneaked into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, where he watched Eddie Tolan defeat Ralph Metcalfe in the 100-meter race, an event that spurred his own Olympic goals. Whitfield joined the United States Army Air Force in 1943 as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. After World War II, he remained in the military and enrolled at Ohio State University. In the early 1950s, he also served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War, where he served as a tail gunner and flew 27 combat missions.

He won the NCAA title at Ohio State in the 800 m in 1948 and 880 yds (800 m) in 1949. After leaving the university, he won the AAU title from 1949 to 1951 at 800 m, in 1953 and 1954 at 880 yds (800 m), and in 1952 at 400 m. He also won the 800 m at the 1951 Pan American Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the 1948 Olympics in London, Whitfield won the 800 m and was a member of the winning 4 × 400 m relay team. He also earned a bronze medal in the 400 m. At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, he repeated his 800 m victory.

He also earned a silver medal as the United States 4 × 400 m relay team member. He set a world record in 880 yds (800 m) of 1:49.2 in 1950 and dropped it to 1:48.6 in 1952. In 1954, Whitfield won the James E. Sullivan Award, given annually by the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU) to the outstanding amateur athlete in the country. He was the first black athlete to win the award. Whitfield narrowly missed making the 1956 Olympic team while a student at California State University, Los Angeles, and he retired from track competition shortly thereafter.

After graduating, he worked for the State Department and Information Service, conducting sports clinics in Africa. In his 47 years in Africa, Whitfield trained and gave consultation to dozens of athletes who represented their countries as Olympians and All-Africa Games champions. He coached in 20 countries and lived in Kenya, Uganda, and Egypt. Whitfield also arranged sports scholarships for over 5,000 African athletes to study in the United States.  As a diplomat, he traveled to over 132 countries and played a key role in training and developing African athletes. In 1954 Whitfield won the James E. Sullivan Award for amateur athletics and was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame in 1978. Only Jesse Owens had been inducted among track and field athletes before him.

In 1989 Whitfield founded the Mal Whitfield Foundation to promote sports, academics, and culture. Whitfield wrote the book, Learning to Run, which was translated into French. His foundation published his memoir and titled, Beyond the Finish Line. He was the father of news anchor Fredrick a Whitfield and high jumper Ed Wright. Mal Whitfield died at his home in Washington, D.C., on November 18, 2015, aged 91.

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