It was the summer before his senior year at Plainfield High in New Jersey when Milt Campbell participated in his first-ever decathlon.
At the U.S. Olympic Trials.
The standout football player and swimmer made the team.
At the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games, Campbell won the silver medal. Yes, Milt Campbell was quite an athlete.
Upon returning home, Campbell was not satisfied. “People were happy and congratulating me that I had gotten a silver medal,” he said. “But I was disappointed. I wanted to win. I figured that if I could have trained more and gotten used to all the events, I would have won the gold medal.”
Four years later, at the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, Campbell did just that, setting an Olympic record with 7,937 points and becoming the first Black American to win gold in the decathlon.
But Campbell was more than just a decathlete. He was a running back on the football team at Indiana University, where he also ran track and won an NCAA championship in the high hurdles. He played one season for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and several more in the Canadian Football League.
After football, Campbell took up judo and had his sights on making the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team for the Munich Games before being told that his professional football career made him ineligible to compete. Still, he holds the unique distinction of being a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.
Campbell passed away in 2012 from cancer and diabetes. He was 78.