John “Long John” Woodruff: First Black Gold Medalist in 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics

1 Posted by - December 4, 2023 - LATEST POSTS

John Youie “Long John” Woodruff was a middle-distance runner, winner of the 800 m event at the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Woodruff was born July 5, 1915 in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. He was only a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in 1936 when he placed second at the National AAU meet and first at the Olympic Trials, earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Woodruff didn’t have as much experience as his peers when it came to running, but despite his lack of experience he was a favorite in the Olympic 800 meter run, and he did not disappoint. In one of the most exciting races in Olympic history, Woodruff became boxed in by other runners and was forced to stop running. He then came from behind to win in 1:52.9. Woodruff was a 21-year-old college freshman, an unsophisticated and, at 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m), an ungainly runner. But he was a fast thinker, and he made a quick decision.

During a career that was curtailed by World War II, Woodruff won one AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) title in 800 m in 1937 and won both 440 yd (400 m) and 880 yd (800 m) IC4A titles from 1937 to 1939. Woodruff also held a share of the world 4×880 yd relay record while competing with the national team.

Woodruff graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1939, with a major in sociology. While at the University of Pittsburgh Woodruff became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. 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.

After retiring, Woodruff coached young athletes and officiated at local and Madison Garden track meets. He also worked as a teacher in New York City, a special investigator for the New York Department of Welfare, a recreation center director for the New York City Police Athletic League, and a parole officer for the state of New York.

Woodruff’s last public appearance was on April 15, 2007 when he, along with the members of the Tuskegee Airmen, was honored by the Arizona Diamondbacks by throwing out the first pitch.



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