Class of 1953
As if to prove that perhaps winning a decathlon gold medal at age 17 in the middle of the 20th century wasn’t as other-worldly as today’s fan might imagine, 18-year-old Milt Campbell followed 1948 London champion Bob Mathias with a silver medal of his own in the 1952 10-eventer in Helsinki – runner-up, in fact to Mathias himself. Indeed, while Mathias – now 21 – was defending his title, Campbell was joining him on the medal stand.
Prior to the Trials for London, Campbell had already established himself as a legendary all-around athlete at Plainfield HS in New Jersey, starring in track and field, football and swimming. Obviously with great balance of talent in the sprints, jumps and throws, it was the hurdles that was Campbell’s cornerstone: As a junior in ’52, he set a 120y high hurdles HSR of 14.0 seconds that lasted for five years.
Campbell scored 7,055 points (6,988 ’85 tables) in the HS decathlon, then took 2nd in the Trials with the senior implements. His runner-up mark in Helsinki was 6,975. This stellar 1952 campaign earned Campbell the Track and Field News HS Athlete of the Year award.
As a senior in 1953, Campbell just missed improving his 120y HH mark over the 39” barriers, but set a mark over the 42” sticks at 14.1 that lasted six years. He also improved his HS decathlon mark to 7,041 (’85 tables), a standard that lasted an impressive 19 years.
Campbell went on to University of Indiana and four years later in Melbourne, Campbell captured a gold medal of his own in the 1956 Games. He scored an Olympic record 7,937 points, just missing the world record, and becoming the first African-American to win decathlon gold.
Did You Know?
In addition to his track and field feats, Milt Campbell played several years of pro football, mostly in the Canadian League.