John Y. Woodruff

John Y. Woodruff is famous for being the first African-American Olympic Gold Medalist. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Woodruff won the 800-meter race in an unforgettable way — by letting his opponents pass him. When fellow runners boxed him in, he stopped, then moved over to the third lane and proceeded to fly past every one of his rivals. The New York Herald Tribune called Woodruff’s comeback “the most daring move seen on a track.”

Woodruff’s win marked the first time in 24 years that the United States had won an Olympic gold medal in the 800-meter race. He went on to set records and win multiple national championships.

Woodruff died on October 30, 2007 at the age of 92. He was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery on Nov. 14, 2007 with his wife’s family on Lot 86, Section 46. A granite memorial bench was installed on his grave lot in August of 2008.


  • Woodruff died in Fountain Hills, Arizona.
  • In the 800-meter race, he broke the tape at 1:52.9.
  • Woodruff’s nine-foot stride earned him the nickname Long John.


“I knew I had to do something drastic if I was to have any chance of winning the race.” — John Y. Woodruff