Saturday 21 September 2019

US Olympics hero 'Marvellous Mal' Whitfield dies

Mal Whitfield in 2012 (AP)
Mal Whitfield in 2012 (AP)

Mal Whitfield, a Tuskegee airman who achieved Olympic glory in the 800 metres in 1948 and 1952 and was the US Information Agency's sports affairs officer for decades, has died at 91.

His daughter, CNN news anchor Fredricka Whitfield, was at her father's side along with other family members when he died at the Veterans Administration hospital in Washington.

The athlete, who was nicknamed "Marvellous Mal", won a total of five Olympic medals - three golds, a silver and a bronze.

Born in Bay City, Texas, Whitfield joined the US Army Air Force after graduating from high school in 1943. He was a Tuskegee airman - a group of African-American military pilots who fought in the Second World War - and a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group at Lockbourne AFB in Ohio. He also flew 27 combat missions during the Korean War.

Whitfield, the first service member to win a gold medal while on active duty, also helped the US win the 1,600 metres relay title at the London Olympics in 1948. The former Ohio State star successfully defended his 800 metres title in 1952 in Helsinki.

As a sports ambassador, he travelled to countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In 1989, after retiring from government work, he established the Whitfield Foundation to promote sports and academics around the world. The foundation provided scholarships and donations sports equipment to developing nations.

"He trained countless people in track and field," his daughter said. "He helped others in foreign service, helping them to become comfortable in Africa and the Middle East."

"He never boasted or bragged about his history as an airman or with the Olympics."

PA Media

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