Mal Whitfield was the finest 400/800 m runner of his time. Between June 1948 and the end of the 1954 season he lost only three of his 69 races at 800 m/880 y, and during that period he won all his two-lap races in major championships, including five AAU wins, two at the NCAA, two Olympic, and one Pan American Games gold medal. In the 1951 Pan American Games he also finished first in the 400 m and in the 4×400 metres relay (with the non-Olympians Bill Brown, John Voight, and Hugo Maiocco). Four years later he finished fourth in the 1955 Pan American Games 800 m. He also won the AAU 440 y in 1952. Whitfield, who started as an Ohio State Buckeye, but eventually graduated from Cal State LA, set U.S. records at 400 m and 440 y and three world records – two at 880 y (1:49.2 and 1:48.6) and one at 1,000 m (2:20.8). Indoors he won two AAU titles and set world records at three different distances. In 1955 he tried unsuccessfully to move up to the mile, but he reverted to the 800 m in 1956 and retired after placing fifth at the Final Trials.
Whitfield served in World War II as a member of 332nd Fighter Group, a segregated unit of the Army Air Force, much more famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He also served during the Korean War, as a tail gunner who flew 27 bombing missions. After his sports career ended, he travelled the world working as a sports ambassador for the U.S. Intelligence Service, usually teaching and coaching athletics, and once lived in Africa coaching for three years, Whitfield was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1988.
Personal Bests: 400 – 45.9 (1953); 800 – 1:47.9 (1953); Mile – 4:12.6 (1954).
Athlete Olympic Results Content