Obit of the Day: 1st African American Head of the USOC
Leroy Walker was the grandson of slaves. The youngest of 13 children, Walker spent most of his youth in Harlem, raised by an older brother. By the time Walker was forty, he would earn a master’s degree in physical education from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in biomechanics from NYU, the latter while serving as the head coach for three athletic teams at North Carolina Central University.
Walker’s track & field program - which he created to help keep his athletes in shape outside of football and basketball season - became the jewel of the NCCU athletic program. His most famous alumni including two-time Olympic gold medalist Lee Calhoun (1956 and 1960) as well as three members of gold medal-winning relay teams in the 1972 games: Larry Black, who was part of the U.S. gold medal-winning 4 x 100m relay and Julius Sang and Robert Ouko, members of the Kenyan 4 x 400m relay team which also won the gold medal.
In 1976, Dr. Walker (or “Doc”) was named the first African American head coach of the U.S. Men’s Track & Field team. At the Montreal games, the Walker-led team earned a total of 20 medals: six gold and seven each of silver and bronze. (The team included gold medalists Bruce Jenner for the decathlon and hurdling legend Edwin Moses who earned his first Olympic gold for the 400m hurdles at the age of 20.)
Staying active in the the U.S. Olympic movement following the ‘76 games, Walker was named treasurer of the U.S.O.C. in 1988 and remained in that post until he became president in 1992, the first African American to hold that post, as well. (Interesting fact: The treasurer is a paid position, but the president is unpaid.) Dr. Walker led the U.S. Olympic team planning for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and had the honor of leading the American delegation during the Opening Ceremonies.
According to the L.A.Timesobituary, the Atlanta Games were not well-received by the I.O.C. and athletes. When coupled with the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic bribery scandal, Dr. Walker warned his colleagues that it would be a long time before the U.S. hosted another Games. He was correct, as the U.S.O.C. and members of the Chicago Olympic bid committee were stunned to learn they were eliminated on the first ballot in the vote for host city of the 2016 Games. (They will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.)
Dr. Walker passed away at the age of 93.
Additional sources: LA Times and www.databaseolympics.com
(Image of Dr. Leroy Walker, right, speaking with Morehouse College student, and future Olympic legend, Edwin Moses as they prepare for the 1976 Olympic Games. The photo was taken on July 8, 1976 and is copyright Bettman/CORBIS.)