Former Olympic Champion, Northeast Ohio Track Star Died Of Heart Attack
June 18, 2002 at 11:10 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 4:17 PM
CHICAGO (AP) - Willie Davenport, who won the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles in 1968 and competed in a total of five Olympics, died of a heart attack after collapsing at O'Hare International Airport, the Cook County medical examiner's office said Tuesday.
The 59-year-old Davenport, who was a track star at Warren Howland High school in Warren, Ohio, was changing planes Monday when he collapsed. He was pronounced dead at Resurrection Medical Center, said a spokesman who would not give his name.
Davenport (pictured, above) equaled the Olympic record when he ran the hurdles in 13.3 seconds at Mexico City. He won a bronze in the event at the 1976 Games. He also was a Summer Olympian in 1964 and 1972, but failed to medal at either competition.
In 1980, Davenport was a member of the U.S. four-man bobsled team that finished 12th at the Winter Olympics. That made him one of the eight Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games.
Davenport and Jeff Gadley were the first black Olympic bobsledders.
Later, Davenport said he loved the competition of the bobsled but didn't like the cold and snow.
"I just wasn't used to competing in conditions like that," he said. "But I highly recommend bobsledding for fun."
Davenport, a colonel in the National Guard, and his wife, Marian, lived in Baton Rouge, La. She said his National Guard office was in Falls Church, Va., and that was where he heading when he collapsed.
Davenport was set to retire in 90 days, Marian Davenport said Tuesday.
She said her husband was healthy and had no history of heart trouble.
"I had no signs, no clues, that he was ill," she said.
Davenport played raquetball and still jogged regularly, she said.
"We just went out to dinner last week for my birthday. He was doing fine," she said. "He didn't speak of any illness, he was just his normal self."
Davenport was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1982 and to the Olympic Hall of Fame eight years later. After retiring from the sport, he entered the National Guard.
An Army private in 1964, Davenport was the surprise winner in the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympic trials and suddenly became the favorite for the gold medal. But a thigh injury hampered him, and Davenport lost in the semifinals.
Davenport was the national champion in the event the next three years, and his Olympic gold medal in 1968 was earned in what he considered a perfect race.
"From the first step, the gun, I knew I had won the race," he said. "It was perhaps the only race I ever ran that way, but that first step was so perfect, right on the money."
But his best discipline might have been the 60-yard hurdles, an indoor event not part of the Olympic program. Davenport was national champion in that event five times, 1966, 1967 and 1969-71.
The 1968 Olympic team in Mexico City, was described by Craig Masback, executive director of U.S. Track and Field, as "the greatest track team in history." Beside Davenport, it included Bob Beamon, Lee Evans, Jim Hines, Wyomia Tyus, Bob Seagren, Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Davenport, born in Troy, Ala., also was a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Davenport and fellow track star Rodney Milburn were coached by the charismatic Dr. Richard A. Hill at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Ala.
Funeral arrangements will be set by the military, Marian Davenport said. Services will be held either in Baton Rouge or Warren, Ohio, where he attended high school, and where some of his six siblings live, she said.
Davenport is also survived by a son, Mark, 23.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)