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Mon Nov 5, 2012, 01:56 PM

Milt Campbell dies at 78; Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon

Milt Campbell, a versatile athlete who became the first African American to win a gold medal in the Olympic decathlon, besting then-world record holder Rafer Johnson at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Games, has died. He was 78.

Campbell, who went on to play professional football before spending the rest of his career as a motivational speaker, died Friday at his home in Gainesville, Ga., his family said. He had been battling cancer and diabetes.

A three-sport standout in football, swimming and track at Plainfield High School in New Jersey, Campbell had already established himself as a world-class high hurdler when he arrived in Los Angeles for the 1952 U.S. Olympic track and field trials at the Coliseum. He lost a spot on the team when he tripped on a hurdle but a few days later in Tulare, Calif., competing in the decathlon for the first time, he finished third in that event. He went to the Helsinki Games as the only high school athlete on the U.S. team and at 18 won a silver medal in the decathlon, finishing second to Tulare's own Bob Mathias.

Back home in New Jersey, Campbell resumed his high school sports career and, after graduating in 1953, earned an athletic scholarship to Indiana University. He played football and ran track for two years at Indiana before joining the Navy in 1955. Stationed in San Diego, he competed on military track squads while training for his next shot at the Olympics.


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