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Herb Douglas, Oldest Living African-American Olympic Medalist, Reflects On 1948 London Games

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Herb Douglas won the bronze medal in long jump at the 1948 Olympic Games in London.
Herb Douglas won the bronze medal in long jump at the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

When London last hosted the Olympic games, in the summer of 1948, the Cold War had begun, President Harry S. Truman had just put an end to racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces, and 26-year-old track star Herb Douglas was a long jump away from bringing home bronze.

He did, jumping 297 inches, or 24' 9", to win the third-place medal.

On the eve of this year's London Olympic games, Douglas, who is now the oldest living African-American Olympic medalist at age 90, reflected on his leap into the history books in an interview with Pittsburgh news station WPXI.

"That was a paramount time of my life and it always will be," he told the station. "There isn't hardly a year that goes by that I don't think of it many, many times."

Douglas' win opened doors, he says, landing him coveted encounters with fellow African-American notables like Joe Frazier and, more recently, President Obama.

"As I walked up to him and shook his hand, he said 'I'm standing on your shoulders," Douglas said, recalling his meeting with Obama earlier this year.

It was one more accomplishment Douglas could add to a list that also includes helping Xavier University of Louisiana become the first HBCU to win a relay at the Penn Relays back in 1942, according to the Philadelphia Tribune. He also earned two degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and last year received an honorary degree from Xavier.

After the Olympics, Douglas went on to succeed in the corporate world, joining Schieffelin & Company (now Moet/Hennessy USA) in 1963, where he became the third African-American to reach the level of vice president of a national company.

At the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum in Pittsburgh, near Douglas' hometown, several items from his 1948 Olympic win are on display, including the shoes and USA track jacket he wore at the games, competition photos and a life-size image of him competing in the long jump.

Douglas has made plans to be in London for this summer's games, according to WPXI.

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