Mal Whitfield

Mal Whitfield
Mal Whitfield 1998.jpg
Whitfield in 1998
Personal information
Birth nameMalvin Greston Whitfield
Nickname(s)Marvelous Mal
Born(1924-10-11)October 11, 1924
Bay City, Texas, U.S.
DiedNovember 19, 2015(2015-11-19) (aged 91)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Height6 ft 0 in (183 cm)
Weight168 lb (76 kg)
SportTrack and field
Event(s)400 metres, 800 metres
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)400 m: 45.9 (1953)
800 m: 1:47.9 (1953)
Medal record
Men's athletics
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1948 London 800 metres
Gold medal – first place 1948 London 4x400 m relay
Gold medal – first place 1952 Helsinki 800 metres
Silver medal – second place 1952 Helsinki 4x400 m relay
Bronze medal – third place 1948 London 400 metres
Pan American Games
Gold medal – first place 1951 Buenos Aires 400 metres
Gold medal – first place 1951 Buenos Aires 800 metres
Gold medal – first place 1951 Buenos Aires 4x400 m relay

Malvin Greston Whitfield (October 11, 1924 – November 19, 2015) was an American athlete, goodwill ambassador, and airman. Nicknamed "Marvelous Mal", he was the Olympic champion in the 800 meters at the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics, and a member of the 1948 gold medal team in the 4 × 400 meters relay. Overall, Whitfield was a five-time Olympic medalist (three gold, one silver, one bronze). After his competitive career, he worked for 47 years as a coach, goodwill ambassador, as well as an athletic mentor in Africa on behalf of the United States Information Service.[1]

Early life

Whitfield was born in Bay City, Texas. He moved to the Watts district of Los Angeles when he was four; at that age, his father died, and his mother died when he was 12, after which he was raised by his older sister. He sneaked into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, where he watched Eddie Tolan defeat Ralph Metcalfe in the 100 meter race, an event that spurred his own Olympic goals.[1]

Whitfield joined the United States Army Air Forces in 1943 as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.[2] After World War II, he remained in the military, but also enrolled at Ohio State University. In the early 1950s, he also served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War, flying 27 combat missions as a tail gunner.[3] Under the coaching of Larry Snyder, he won the NCAA title while at Ohio State in the 800 m in 1948 and 880 yd in 1949. After leaving the university, he won the AAU title from 1949 to 1951 at 800 m, in 1953 and 1954 at 880 yd and in 1952 at 400 m. He also won the 800 m at the 1951 Pan American Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.[4]

Olympic career

Whitfield at the 1948 Summer Olympics

At the 1948 Olympics in London, Whitfield won the 800 m and was a member of the winning 4 × 400 m relay team. He also earned a bronze medal in the 400 m. At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, he repeated his 800 m victory. He also earned a silver medal as a member of United States 4 × 400 m relay team. He set a world record at 880 yd of 1:49.2 in 1950 and dropped it to 1:48.6 in 1952. In 1954, Whitfield became the first black athlete to win the James E. Sullivan Award, given annually by the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU) to the outstanding amateur athlete in the country. Whitfield narrowly missed making the 1956 Olympic team while a student at California State University, Los Angeles, and he retired from track competition shortly thereafter.[4]

Sports ambassador

After graduating, he worked for the United States Department of State and the United States Information Service, conducting sports clinics in Africa.[5]

In his 47 years in Africa, Whitfield trained and gave consultation to dozens of athletes who represented their countries as Olympians and All-Africa Games champions. He coached in 20 countries and lived in Kenya, Uganda and Egypt.[1] Whitfield also arranged sports scholarships for over 5,000 African athletes to study in the United States.[6] During his career as a diplomat, he traveled to over 132 countries and played a key role in training and developing African athletes. United States President Ronald Reagan wrote of him: "Whether flying combat missions over Korea, or winning gold medal after gold medal at the Olympics, or serving as an ambassador of goodwill among the young athletes of Africa, you have given your all. This country is proud of you, and grateful to you." Shortly after his retirement from government service in 1989, Whitfield was invited to the Oval Office, where President George H. W. Bush recognized his service to the nation and the world.[7]


In 1954, Whitfield won the James E. Sullivan Award for amateur athletics.[1] Whitfield was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974, and Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame in 1978. Among track and field athletes, only Jesse Owens had been inducted before him.[3][8]


Whitfield wrote the book Learning to Run, which was translated into French.[5][9] His memoir was published by his foundation and titled Beyond the Finish Line.[10]

Personal life

He was married to Nola Whitfield. He was also the father of Nyna Konishi, Lonnie Whitfield, CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield[11] and accomplished high jumper Ed Wright.[12] In 1989 Whitfield founded the Mal Whitfield Foundation for the promotion of sports, academics, and culture. The foundation has distributed 5,000 athletic scholarships.[13]

Whitfield died at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospice center in Washington, D.C. on the night of November 19, 2015, aged 91.[14] He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.[2]

Competition record

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  United States
1948 Olympics London, United Kingdom 3rd 400 m 46.9

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Litsky, Frank (November 19, 2015). "Mal Whitfield, Olympic Gold Medalist and Tuskegee Airman, Dies at 91". New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Shapira, Ian. "Olympian and Tuskegee Airman who survived segregation and combat is buried at Arlington". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Three-Time Olympic Track Champion Mal Whitfield Dies at 91". Team Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Mal Whitfield". Sports Reference. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Garnett, Barnard (October 31, 1968). "US Ex-Olympian Trained African Olympic Stars". Jet. 35 (4): 57–59.
  6. ^ "Marvelous" Mal Whitfield Biography – Page 3 Archived 2011-10-04 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Marvelous" Mal Whitfield Biography – Page 2 Archived 2011-10-04 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Men's Varsity "O" Hall of Fame". Ohio State Buckeyes. Archived from the original on November 16, 2012. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  9. ^ Whitfield, Mal (1967). Learning to Run. East African Pub. House. OCLC 639849.
  10. ^ Whitfield, Mal (2002). Beyond the Finish Line. Whitfield Foundation. ISBN 0972443908. OCLC 51464414.
  11. ^ Navy SEALs in Afghanistan; Dance fever. July 6, 2005. CNN. Retrieved July 12, 2008
  12. ^ "Cal's Wright has genes of an Olympic champion". SFGate. 10 May 2007.
  13. ^ "The Mal Whitfield Foundation". 2004. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  14. ^ Schudel, Matt. "Mal Whitfield, three-time Olympic gold medalist, dies at 91". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 November 2015.

Further reading

  • Walter, John C., and Malina Iida. Better Than the Best: Black Athletes Speak, 1920–2007. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010. ISBN 9780295990538

External links