Olympic great Willye White dies


Tom Surber
Media Information Manager
USA Track & Field

INDIANAPOLIS - U.S. Olympian and National Track & Field Hall of Famer Willye White died Tuesday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, according to The Associated Press. White, who died of pancreatic cancer, was 67 years old.

The first woman to compete for the U.S. in five Olympics, Willye White was the top American long jumper during the 1960s. She was a sophomore in high school when she first appeared in Olympic competition at Melbourne in 1956, taking the silver medal. She appeared in the 1960 Olympics, but failed to make the long jump final. Four years later in Tokyo, she won a silver medal in the 4x100m relay after a 12th in the long jump.

She was 11th in the long jump in her other Olympic appearances in 1968 and 1972. She competed in three Pan-American Games, finishing third in 1959, first in 1963, and third in 1967.

A veteran of 34 international teams, including 11 consecutive years of competing in the USA-USSR dual meet, White won a dozen National AAU long jump titles, 11 of which came outdoors. She also set the national long jump record on seven occasions.

"No one has been a better model for and representative of the word "Olympian" than Willye White," said USATF CEO Craig Masback. "For all of us, Willye has been a friend, advisor, motivator, and constant source of good humor. She not only talked about the Olympic ideals, she lived them every day. Whatever her track and field accomplishments - and they were extraordinary - her spirit and commitment to her community are a key part of her legacy. I miss her personally and we all mourn her loss.

Born in Money, Miss., and raised by her grandparents, White picked cotton to help her family earn money, while at the same time competing in sports. She later enrolled at Tennessee State University and trained under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Ed Temple.

White, a longtime Chicago-area resident, credited her experience as an athlete with allowing her to see beyond the racism and hatred that surrounded her as a child.

"Before my first Olympics, I thought the whole world consisted of cross burnings and lynchings," she was quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated for Women.

"The Olympic movement taught me not to judge a person by the color of their skin but by the contents of their hearts," she said. "I am who I am because of my participation in sports."

A member of the Black Sports Hall of Fame and the Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, White was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1981.

After her athletic career ended, White coached, lectured and served as president of the Midwest chapter of the U.S. Olympians for 12 years. She established the Willye White Foundation in 1991 to help young girls develop self-esteem and become more productive citizens within their communities.

A service celebrating the life of Willye White will be held Saturday, February 10 at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 South Shore Drive from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations for pancreatic cancer research may be made to the Willye White Foundation, 55 E. Superior, Chicago, IL 60611.

For more information on Willye White's athletic accomplishments, visit http://www.usatf.org/HallOfFame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=180