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Mon, 07.05.1915

John Woodruff, Olympian, and Educator born

John Woodruff, 1998
Pitt football game

John Woodruff was born on this date in 1915. He was a Black athlete, teacher, and military officer.

From Connellsville, Pennsylvania, while only a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in 1936, "Long" John Woodruff took the track world by storm by finishing second at the National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meet, then making the Olympic team.  Despite his inexperience, he was the favorite in the Olympic 800 and did not disappoint.

He came from behind to win the event in 1:52.9.  During a career that was curtailed by World War II, Woodruff won three straight national collegiate titles and he took the National AAU 880 in 1937. The American record holder at 800 meters with a 1:48.6 in 1940, Woodruff also held a share of the world's 4 x 880-yard record while competing with the national team.

Woodruff graduated from Pitt in 1939 with a major in sociology and then earned a master's degree in the same field from New York University in 1941. He entered military service in 1941 as a second lieutenant and was discharged as a captain in 1945. He reentered military service during the Korean War and left in 1957 as a lieutenant colonel. He commanded two battalions, one of them integrated. He was the executive officer for five different artillery battalions. He continued serving in the army reserves after he retired.

Over the years, he worked with the New York City Children's Aid Society, taught school in New York City, was a special investigator for the New York Department of Welfare, was Recreation Center Director for the New York City Police Athletic League, and served as a parole officer for the state of New York.

When he retired he was, for many years, an official for the annual Penn Relays in Philadelphia, returning to Connellsville every summer to be an official starter and trophies presenter to the winners of the John Woodruff 5-K Run and Walk, established in his honor.

John Youie Woodruff, the winner of the 800 meters run at the 1936 Summer Olympics, died October 30, 2007, near Phoenix.  Until then, he had been the last surviving gold medalist from the U. S. team, including runner Jesse Owens.


USA Track & Field
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