Sat, Nov 03, 2007 - Page 18 News List

The Olympian who stopped to win


John Woodruff, left, and Marty Glickman, former teammates of track and field great Jesse Owens, flank the Jesse Owens Trophy at the New York Athletic Club in New York on Dec. 16, 1999.


John Woodruff, a fellow black US teammate of Jesse Owens who also won a gold medal to repudiate Adolf Hitler's "master race" agenda at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, has died at an assisted living center near Phoenix.

Woodruff died on Tuesday at a center in Fountain Hills, said Rose Woodruff, his wife of 37 years. He was 92.

"I was at his bedside at the time he passed," she said in an interview on Thursday. "We were holding hands, and he slipped away peacefully."

Woodruff, nicknamed "Long John" for his lengthy stride, was a lanky 21-year-old first-year student at the University of Pittsburgh when he sailed to the Olympics and into a racially charged scene.

On Aug. 4, 1936, he won the 800m using one of the most astonishing tactics in Olympic history. Boxed in by the pack of slow-paced runners, he literally stopped, moved to the third lane and passed everyone.

"I didn't panic," Woodruff told the New York Times in 2005. "I just figured if I had only one opportunity to win, this was it. I've heard people say that I slowed down and almost stopped. I didn't almost stop. I stopped, and everyone else went around me."

The athletes in Berlin were given oak tree saplings and Woodruff planted his in his hometown of Connellsville, Pennsylvania.

"It now towers over 80 feet [24m]," Rose Woodruff said.

Owens and Woodruff remained close friends.

Besides his wife Rose, he is survived by a son John Junior, daughter Randilyn Gilliam, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

"He had a wonderful life," Rose Woodruff said. "John was a good man, a good person and had a lot of integrity and very strong character."

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