John Taylor (athlete)

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John Taylor
John baxter taylor.jpg
John Baxter Taylor, Jr.
Medal record
Men's athletics
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place London 1908 Medley relay

John Baxter Taylor Jr. (November 3, 1883, Washington, DC – December 2, 1908, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American track and field athlete, notable as the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, and the most prominent African American member of the Irish American Athletic Club. He was a member of the Sigma Pi Phi, the first black fraternity. [1]

Taylor was a member of the gold medal medley relay team at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. He ran the third leg, performing the 400 meters. He followed William Hamilton and Nate Cartmell and was followed by Mel Sheppard. (Taylor and Sheppard were classmates at Brown Prep school). In both the first round and the final, Taylor received a lead from Cartmell and passed one on to Sheppard. The team won both races, with times of 3:27.2 and 3:29.4. Taylor was the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal. His split for the final was 49.8 seconds.

He advanced to the finals in the men's 400 metres race at the 1908 Summer Olympics, winning his preliminary heat with a time of 50.8 seconds and his semifinal with 49.8 seconds. In the first running of the race, Taylor came in last place out of the four runners. However, teammate John Carpenter was disqualified after being accused of obstructing British runner Wyndham Halswelle and the race was ordered to be repeated without Carpenter. Taylor and fellow American William Robbins refused to compete in the second final in protest at Carpenter's disqualification. Wyndham Halswelle reluctantly ran the second final alone, with a time of 50 seconds, and was awarded the gold medal in the only walkover in Olympic history.

Less than five months after returning from the Olympic Games in London, Taylor died of typhoid fever on 2 December 1908 at the age of 25. In his obituary, The New York Times called him "the world's greatest negro runner."[1]

John Baxter Taylor's death certificate

In a letter to Taylor's parents, Harry Porter, fellow Irish American Athletic Club member and acting President of the 1908 U.S. Olympic Team wrote: "It is far more as the man (than the athlete) that John Taylor made his mark. Quite unostentatious, genial, (and) kindly, the fleet-footed, far-famed athlete was beloved wherever known...As a beacon of his race, his example of achievement in athletics, scholarship and manhood will never wane, if indeed it is not destined to form with that of Booker T. Washington." [2][3]



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