The Legacy of Rod Milburn

By Tony McClean, BASN
Updated: February 29, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Ct. (BASN) — The names of such track and field luminaries like Alice Coachman, Florence Griffith Joyner, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee are a standing testament to the success of African-Americans track athletes on the world stage. Today, we focus on another track standout from days gone by. Rod Milburn was not only a great athlete, but was also a community supporter as well. Born on May 19, 1950 in Opelousas, Louisiana, Milburn began his path to Olympic glory at J. S. Clark High School. He defeated the best prep trackers in the state to earn a spot on the 1968 All-American team. While attending Southern University, he set or tied five world records and was selected to the all-SWAC team in all four years (1970-73) at SU. Milburn also won three national collegiate hurdles titles and four National AAU championships, two each indoors and outdoors. During a semifinal race at the National AAU meet in 1971, he won the 120-yard high hurdles in 13.0, smashing the old world record of 13.2 that was set 12 years earlier. The same year, Milburn went undefeated in 28-straight races and was named Track & Field News Athlete of the Year. He was voted the Most Outstanding Athlete in the World and received the Jim Corbett Award. Milburn also won the 1971 Pan-American Games title but his crowning achievement came in 1972, when he earned a gold medal in the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. His Olympic hurdling time of 13.24 went unsurpassed for five years. After 1972, Milburn turned to professional track, but the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 ended his chances of winning another medal. He remained world ranked until his final retirement in 1983. After retirement, Milburn coached hurdlers at Southern from until 1987. He also did community work in Baton Rouge and surrounding area. Milburn was selected one of Louisiana’s Top 25 Athletes of the Century just before his death. Tragically, he was killed on November 11, 1997 in an industrial accident in Baton Rouge. The Olympic Hall of Fame includes such track champions as Ralph Boston, Edwin Moses, and Lee Calhoun. Here’s hoping that the name and contributions of Rod Milburn will be up for induction as well. NOTE: The African-American Registry contributed to this story.