February 21, 2007

SMU scholarship recognizes Olympic track star

Olympic gold medalist John Woodruff, who once ruled the track in the 800-meter run, was honored Wednesday with a scholarship in his name at Southern Methodist University.

The John Youie Woodruff Scholarship will be awarded to a deserving student from the Dallas area who has demonstrated outstanding academic, athletic and leadership achievement as a high school student. The scholarship provides $5,000 for each of eight semesters. The first recipient is expected to be named this fall.

John Woodruff won the 800-meter
run in the 1936 Olympics.

Mr. Woodruff was the first black athlete to win a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, running the 800 meters in 1:52.9. The victory was made more amazing by the fact that his 10-foot stride allowed him to come to almost a complete stop in the middle of the race to extricate himself from a box and then out-distance some of the world's fastest runners.

The scholarship announcement was part of a ceremony in which Mr. Woodruff was recognized for his many years of public service and for having run fast enough to set a world record in Dallas in July 1937. He had run the distance in 1:47.8, beating the old record by two seconds. However, at the time, the Amateur Athletic Union voided the race, declaring that the track was six feet short of 800 meters.

The AAU decision recently was brought to public attention by comedian Bill Cosby and Dallas Morning News columnist James Ragland. Students at Ronald Reagan Middle School in Grand Prairie set up a mathematical equation showing that Mr. Woodruff would have broken the record even if the track had been extended to regulation length.

The SMU ceremony also included the presentation of a resolution from the Texas Senate honoring Mr. Woodruff.

The current NCAA record for the 800-meter run was set in 1990 by Mark Everett of Florida with a time of 1:44.70. The world record is held by Wilson Kipketer of Denmark, who ran the distance in 1:41.11 in 1997.

Read more about Mr. Woodruff at Wikipedia and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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