— John Woodruff, who joined Jesse Owens as black Americans who won gold
medals in the face of Adolf Hitler and his “master race” agenda at the
1936 Berlin Olympics, has died. He was 92.
Woodruff died Oct. 30 at an assisted living center near Phoenix, said his wife, Rose Woodruff.
Nicknamed “Long John” for his lengthy stride, Woodruff was a lanky 21-year-old freshman at Pittsburgh when he sailed to the Olympics and into a racially charged scene.
On Aug. 4, 1936, he won the 800 meters using one of the most astonishing tactics in Olympic history. Boxed in by the pack of slow-paced runners, he literally stopped in his tracks, then moved to the third lane and passed everyone.
The U.S. athletes in Berlin were given oak tree saplings, and Woodruff planted in his hometown of Connellsville, Pa.
Woodruff twice served in the Army, first during World War II, then the Korean War. He left the active service in 1957 as a Lt. Colonel but remained in the Army reserves.
According to the National African American Registry, Woodruff commanded two battalions, one of them integrated, and was executive officer for five artillery battalions.
He and his wife moved to Arizona in 2000. Diabetes led to the amputation of his once-powerful legs in 2003.
A grandson of slaves, Woodruff was born on July 5, 1915, one of 12 children of Silas and Sarah Woodruff. He won three consecutive national 880-yard titles and the national Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) 880 championship in 1939.