Oral History

Olympic athlete John Woodruff describes his tactics for winning the 800-meter race

In 1936, John Woodruff was one of 18 African Americans on the US Olympic team competing in Berlin. He won the gold medal for the men's 800-meter race. In this clip he describes the tactics he used to win the race. 


When the race was started I got right out in front and I stayed out there and won the race on, on both of those two races. On the final race, I decided well I’m going to try to exercise a little strategy to make sure that I would win the race by laying back in second position, and then, of course, waiting until I hit the last three hundred meters and then starting my kick to try to win the race. But the fellow, Phil Edwards, from Canada, he set a very, very slow pace. And, of course, he set that pace and, and we, we ran that way for 400 meters, that’s half the race. When we hit the first turn of the last, the last half of the race or the last 400 meters, the contestants or my opponents crowded right around me. I got boxed in. And the only way I could get out of that box was to stop. Now if I attempted to breakthrough, I would have fouled somebody and I’d have been disqualified. But I had enough sense to know that I couldn’t do that. So I stopped. So I let the, let, let my opponents proceed in front, ahead of me. I ran out into the third lane and then I ran around the field and won the race. In fact I ran more than 800 meters when I won that race because I was running way out in the third lane see. But I won it. That was the most important thing. And of course the old timers just said they never in the history of the, of the, of the Olympics had ever seen a race won the way I ran mine. And you see, first of all, whenever you stop and you break your stride, you break your rhythm, that usually finishes you. But I was able to pick up even though I started the race twice and, and, and still won.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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