University of Pittsburgh
October 10, 2011

Interactive Display of 1936 Olympic Gold Medal Won by Pitt Alumnus John Woodruff to Be Unveiled at Pitt’s Hillman Library Oct. 14

Event celebrates the 75th anniversary of Woodruff’s remarkable victory
Contact: 

Sharon Blake

412-624-4364

Cell: 412-277-6926

 

PITTSBURGH—The Gold Medal won by University of Pittsburgh alumnus and track star John Woodruff at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin is the focus of a new interactive display that will be unveiled at 2 p.m. Oct. 14 on the first floor of Pitt’s Hillman Library, 3960 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 

The event marks the 75th anniversary of Woodruff’s dramatic finish of the 800-meter-race at the 1936 Games. Sponsored by Pitt’s African American Alumni Council, the ceremony is one of the highlights of Pitt’s Homecoming Week activities.

The display, a square obelisk more than six feet high, will include an interactive multimedia touchscreen featuring film narratives, a photo gallery, and selections from Woodruff’s personal family scrapbook. Most of the materials have never been on public view before. The Gold Medal, which Woodruff donated to Pitt in 1990, will be showcased on a rotating illuminated pedestal. 

University Library System Director and Hillman Librarian Rush Miller and Pitt Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Robert Hill are hosting the event; Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and other Pitt officials will deliver remarks.

Also speaking will be Pitt trustee Herbert P. Douglas Jr. (EDUC ’48, ’50G), a bronze medalist in the long jump at the 1948 Olympics; Roger Kingdom (CGS ’02), Pitt football and track star, winner of two Olympic gold medals (1984 and 1988) in the 100 meter hurdles, and head track coach at California University of Pennsylvania; and John Woodruff Jr., a New York City attorney.

About the 1936 Olympic Games

There was talk of an Olympic boycott because of racial policies in Germany, but some Black newspapers objected, saying it was hypocritical to boycott the Berlin Olympics without first addressing the problems of discrimination against Blacks in the United States. Ultimately, 18 Black athletes competed—16 men and two women—triple the number that had competed in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The 1936 group included Jesse Owens, who set a new record that year by winning four gold medals.

A lanky 21-year-old who lacked international running experience, Woodruff got boxed in by veteran runners 300 meters into the 800-meter contest. Realizing he would be disqualified if he fouled another runner, Woodruff stopped running, moved to the track’s third lane, let the other runners pass by, and began again. As he started from the back of the pack, his nine-foot stride lengthened, and he passed one rival after another. He was leading when the finish line came into view, and he sprinted through the tape at 1:52:9. The New York Herald Tribune called Woodruff’s stop-and-restart technique “the most daring move ever seen on a track.” Woodruff was the first African American to win a Gold Medal at the 1936 Olympic Games.

Woodruff, who earned his Pitt Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology in 1939, last visited the University during Homecoming Week 2006, when he was honored for the 70th anniversary of his Olympic victory. He died on Oct. 30, 2007, at age 92.

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