John Woodruff at the 1936 Olympic platform being awarded his Gold Medal for winning the 800 meter race. Notice the Olympic Oak in his hands. That tree is now 81 years old and growing in Connellsville, Pennsylvania at the High School Stadium on Arch Street.
John Youie Woodruff (July 5, 1915 – October 30, 2007) was an American Athlete and winner of the 800 meters at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Born in Connellsville, Fayette Count, Pennsylvania, U.S, "Long" John Woodruff was only a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in 1936 when he placed second at the National AAU meet and first at the Olympic Trials (in the heat 1:49,9; WR 1:49,8), earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Despite his inexperience, he was the favorite in the Olympic 800 metre run, and he did not disappoint. In one of the most exciting races in Olympic history, Woodruff became boxed in by other runners and was forced to stop running. He then came from behind to win in 1:52.9. The New York Times described the race:
He remembers the anguish of his Olympic race: “Phil Edwards, the Canadian doctor, set the pace, and it was very slow. On the first lap, I was on the inside, and I was trapped. I knew that the rules of running said if I tried to break out of a trap and fouled someone, I would be disqualified. At that point, I didn’t think I could win, but I had to do something.”
Woodruff was a 21-year-old college freshman, an unsophisticated and, at 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m), an ungainly runner. But he was a fast thinker, and he made a quick decision.
“I didn’t panic,” he said. “I just figured if I had only one opportunity to win, this was it. I’ve heard people say that I slowed down or almost stopped. I didn’t almost stop. I stopped, and everyone else ran around me.”
Then, with his stride of almost 10 feet (3.0 m), Woodruff ran around everyone else. He took the lead, lost it on the backstretch, but regained it on the final turn and won the gold medal.
During a career that was curtailed by World War II, Woodruff won one AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) title in 800 m in 1937 and won both 440 yd (400 m) and 880 yd (800 m) IC4A titles from 1937 to 1939. Woodruff also held a share of the world 4 x 880-yard (800 m) relay record while competing with the national team.
Woodruff graduated in 1939, with a major in sociology, and then earned a Masters Degree in the same field from New York University in 1941. He entered military service in 1941 as a Second Lieutenant and was discharged as a Captain in 1945. He reentered military service during the Korean War, and left in 1957 as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was the Battalion commander of the 369th Artillery later the 569 Transportation Battalion New York Army National Guard.
In later years Woodruff lived in New Rochelle in Westchester County, New York and coached young athletes, and officiated at local and Madison Garden track meets. Woodruff also worked as a teacher in New York City, a special investigator for the New York Department of Welfare, a recreation center director for the New York City Police Athletic League, a parole officer for the state of New York a salesperson for Schieffelin and Co. and an assistant to the Center Director for Edison Job Corps Center in New Jersey. John Woodruff is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis.
John Woodruff aboard the SS Manhattan on his way to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. John is pictured here 3rd from right.
Pictured second from right is John Woodruff and Fritz Bezzelt (father of the donor) is pictured far right. Fritz Bezzelt was a Nazi soldier who was killed in Italy on January 10, 1945. Fritz had been affilitated with the 1936 Olympics possibly as either a masseur or member of the German swim team.
From left, Mark Robinson, Dave Albritton, Jesse Owens, cornelius Johnson and John Woodruff - 1936 Olympic Photo. Notice John is wearing the Olympic Pin Badge o his pants. Also notice the Natzi soldier to the left of this photo.
John Woodruff right after his gold medal win.
American Olympians being transported by train from Hamburg, Germany to Berlin, Germany. John Woodruff is pictured here front and center.
American Olympians arriving in Berlin, Germany. You can see the Olympic Village in the background. John Woodruff is pictured here in the distance to the left.
After the Olympics, John Woodruff continued to compete at PITT.
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