John Taylor (athlete)

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

John Baxter Taylor Jr. (November 3, 1883, Washington, D.C. – December 2, 1908, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American track and field athlete, notable as the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal.

Biography[edit]

He was born in Washington, D.C. to former slaves. The family settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he attended public schools and graduated from Central High School in 1902. He spent a year at Brown Preparatory School, also in Philadelphia, where he was the fastest high school quarter-miler in the country. As a University of Pennsylvania freshman, he was the ICAAAA (Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America) champion in the quarter mile. He bested his personal time in 1907, and again was the ICAAAA quarter mile champion. He graduated from Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine in 1908, and was a member of Sigma Pi Phi, the first black fraternity. [1] He was recruited by the Irish American Athletic Club in New York, and was its most prominent African American member.

1908 Olympics[edit]

Taylor was a member of the gold medal-winning men's 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 (fellow athletes from the University of Pennsylvania) and was followed by Mel Sheppard (a fellow athlete from Brown Preparatory 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. In protest at Carpenter's disqualification, Taylor and fellow American William Robbins refused to compete in the second final. 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]

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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