Mal Whitfield

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Mal Whitfield
Mal Whitfield 1998.jpg
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)

Malvin Greston "Mal" Whitfield (October 11, 1924 – November 19, 2015) was an 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 forty-seven years as a coach, goodwill ambassador, and athletic mentor in Africa on behalf of the United States Information Service. [1]

A goodwill ambassador is a person who advocates for a specific cause on the basis of their notability. Goodwill ambassadors generally deliver goodwill or promote ideals from one entity to another, or to a population. The term should be distinguished from the related concept of a brand ambassador, who plays a role in promoting a company or product through personal interaction. A goodwill ambassador may be an individual from one country who resides in or travels to another country, in a diplomatic mission at a peer to peer level; that is: country to country, state to state, city to city; or, as an intermediary representing the people at the other extreme of an organization.

Airman member of the air component of an armed service

An Airman is a member of an air force or air arm of a nation's armed forces. In certain air forces, it can also refer to a specific enlisted rank.

Olympic Games major international sport event

The modern Olympic Games or Olympics are leading international sporting events featuring summer and winter sports competitions in which thousands of athletes from around the world participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games are considered the world's foremost sports competition with more than 200 nations participating. The Olympic Games are held every four years, with the Summer and Winter Games alternating by occurring every four years but two years apart.


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]

Bay City, Texas City in Texas, United States

Bay City is a city in Matagorda County, Texas, United States. The population was 17,614 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Matagorda County. The current mayor is Mark Bricker.

Watts, Los Angeles Neighborhood of Los Angeles in California, United States

Watts is a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles, California. It is located within the South Los Angeles region, bordering the cities of Lynwood and South Gate to the east and southeast, respectively, and the unincorporated community of Willowbrook to the south.

Los Angeles City in California

Los Angeles, officially the City of Los Angeles and often known by its initials L.A., is the most populous city in California, the second most populous city in the United States, after New York City, and the third most populous city in North America. With an estimated population of four million, Los Angeles is the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Southern California. The city is known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, and its sprawling metropolis. Los Angeles is the largest city on the West Coast of North America.

Whitfield joined the United States Army Air Forces in 1943 as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. 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. [2] 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. [3]

United States Army Air Forces Aerial warfare branch of the United States army from 1941 to 1947

The United States Army Air Forces, informally known as the Air Force,or United States Army Air Force, was the aerial warfare service component of the United States Army during and immediately after World War II (1939/41–1945), successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force of today, one of the five uniformed military services. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply, and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of African-American military pilots who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. The name also applies to the navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Olympic career

Whitfield at the 1948 Summer Olympics Mal Whitfield USA Athlete, Olympic Games, London, 1948.jpg
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 Statese 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. [3]

1948 Summer Olympics Games of the XIV Olympiad, held in London in 1948

The 1948 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XIV Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event which was held in London, United Kingdom from 29 July to 14 August 1948.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Relay race team sport in athletics, swimming, etc

A relay race is a racing competition where members of a team take turns completing parts of racecourse or performing a certain action. Relay races take the form of professional races and amateur games. Relay races are common in running, orienteering, swimming, cross-country skiing, biathlon, or ice skating. In the Olympic Games, there are several types of relay races that are part of track and field.

Sports ambassador

After graduating, he worked for the United States Department of State and the United States Information Service, conducting sports clinics in Africa. [4]

United States Department of State United States federal executive department responsible for foreign affairs

The United States Department of State (DOS), commonly referred to as the State Department, is the federal executive department that advises the President and conducts international relations. Equivalent to the foreign ministry of other countries, it was established in 1789 as the nation's first executive department. The current Secretary of State is Mike Pompeo, who ascended to the office in April 2018 after Rex Tillerson resigned.

Africa The second largest and second most-populous continent, mostly in the Northern and Eastern Hemispheres

Africa is the world's second largest and second most-populous continent, being behind Asia in both categories. At about 30.3 million km2 including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth's total surface area and 20% of its land area. With 1.2 billion people as of 2016, it accounts for about 16% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent includes Madagascar and various archipelagos. It contains 54 fully recognised sovereign states (countries), nine territories and two de facto independent states with limited or no recognition. The majority of the continent and its countries are in the Northern Hemisphere, with a substantial portion and number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere.

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. [5] 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. [6]

Kenya republic in East Africa

Kenya, officially the Republic of Kenya, is a country in Africa with 47 semiautonomous counties governed by elected governors. At 580,367 square kilometres (224,081 sq mi), Kenya is the world's 48th largest country by total area. With a population of more than 52.2 million people, Kenya is the 27th most populous country. Kenya's capital and largest city is Nairobi while its oldest city and first capital is the coastal city of Mombasa. Kisumu City is the third largest city and a critical inland port at Lake Victoria. Other important urban centres include Nakuru and Eldoret.

Uganda republic in East Africa

Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the south-west by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda is in the African Great Lakes region. Uganda also lies within the Nile basin, and has a varied but generally a modified equatorial climate.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.


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. [2] [7]


Whitfield wrote the book Learning to Run, which was translated into French. [4] [8] His memoir was published by his foundation and titled Beyond the Finish Line. [9]

Personal life

He was the father of Nyna Konishi, Lonnie Whitfield, CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield [10] and accomplished high jumper Ed Wright. [11] In 1989 Whitfield founded the Mal Whitfield Foundation for the promotion of sports, academics, and culture. The foundation has distributed 5,000 athletic scholarships. [12]

Whitfield died at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospice center in Washington, D.C. on the night of November 19, 2015, aged 91. [13]

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

Further reading