Milt Campbell: The first black Olympic decathlon champion


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The Independent Online

Milt Campbell, who died on 2 November at the age of 78 of prostate cancer, was the first African-American to win the Olympic decathlon, and went on to play American football. Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, Campbell was a rising high school senior track star when he won the silver medal in the decathlon at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, finishing second to his compatriot Bob Mathias.

Four years later he won gold in Melbourne, and but for a disappointing showing in the pole vault would probably have broken the world record. Campbell had hoped to qualify for the Olympics as a hurdler, but he finished fourth in the trials. "I was stunned," he said. "But then God seemed to reach into my heart and tell me he didn't want me to compete in the hurdles, but in the decathlon."

Campbell was an All-American swimmer in high school, national class in karate and was named the world's greatest high school athlete in 1952.

The year after his Olympic victory, Campbell was drafted by the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, where he played one season in the same backfield as Jim Brown. He then played for various teams in the Canadian Football League, including the Montreal Alouettes, before retiring in 1964. Campbell, who became a motivational speaker, was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1999. He was also a member of the Black Athletes' Hall of Fame and the US Olympic Hall of Fame.