Legendary Plainfield athlete Milt Campbell dies at 78

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Updated: November 3, 2012
Milt Cambell22

Off the BASN Wire by Jim Lambert for the Star-Ledger

NEW JERSEY (BASN)—Milt Campbell, the greatest athlete in New Jersey history and the winner of the 1956 Olympic decathlon, died Friday inGeorgia at the age of 78.

Simply the Greatest…Rest in Peace

“Campbell was, to me, the greatest athlete who ever lived,” legendary documentarian Bud Greenspan told The Star-Ledger in 2000.

Campbell was born in Plainfield in 1933 and was a standout in track and field, football and swimming. In recent years, he had been living in Gainesville, Ga., and recovering from the effects of cancer and diabetes.

He earned most of his fame on the track. As an 18-year-old entering his senior year at Plainfield High School, Campbell won the silver medal in the 1952 Olympic decathlon, finishing second to Bob Mathias. Four years later, Campbell became the first African American to win the Olympic decathlon in Melbourne, Australia, beating then world record holder Rafer Johnson.

In Melbourne, Campbell scored 7,937 points, an Olympic record at the time. Campbell, the first black athlete to win the decathlon, beat silver medalist Rafer Johnson by 350 points.

In 1957, Campbell set world records in both the indoor 60-yard high hurdles (7.0 seconds) and the outdoor 120-yard high hurdles (13.4 seconds).

Campbell is a member of both the New Jersey Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.

But Campbell was far from a one dimensional athlete. What separated Campbell from all other athletes was his versatility. He also an All-American swimmer and an All-American running back at Plainfield where he earned a selection to The Star-Ledger Football Team of the Decade for the 1950s.

He is the only athlete enshrined in both the National Track and Field and National Swimming Hall of Fames.

After the Olympics, Campbell returned to football. Drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1957, he played in the same backfield as Hall of Famer Jim Brown. He then played professionally for seven years in the Canadian Football League before finishing his career in 1964.

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