Arnie Sowell
Personal information
Full nameArnold Milton Sowell
BornApril 6, 1935 (1935-04-06) (age 87)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Height1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Weight130 lb (59 kg)
College teamPittsburgh
Medal record
Men's Athletics
Representing the  United States
Pan American Games
Gold medal – first place 1955 Mexico City 800 metres

Arnold "Arnie" Milton Sowell (born April 6, 1935) is a former middle distance runner from the United States, who represented his native country at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. He finished fourth in the 800 m,.[1]

He is best known for winning the gold medal in the men's 800 metres event during the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City. Sowell also set the world indoor record for the 880-yard run in 1957 at 1:50.3 s[2][3] and tied the world record for the 1,000 yards of 2:08.2 s in 1955.[4][5][6][7]

He was recognised as a very versatile and talented runner who could run a variety of distances, and even hurdle and long jump.,[8][9] One track coach, Manhattan's George Eastment, described him as the "greatest runner I ever saw".,[7] another, Carl Olson, felt he could break the four-minute mile.[9] During his career he had a particular rivalry with his fellow countryman and middle-distance runner, Tom Courtney, the two swapping victories and being involved in many memorable duels.[10][11] One duel was the 1956 Olympic trials where Courtney held off Sowell to finish 1st and 2nd with Courtney in the process breaking Sowell's USA record (of 1:46.7[12]) that he had achieved at that year's NCAA meet.[13]

In the Olympic final itself Sowell led from the back straight of the first lap right up to the final turn of the final lap where he was passed by Courtney. As they entered the final straight, Coutney now ahead had his own battle with Derek Johnson who had also passed Sowell, but Sowell now had to contend with the challenge of Audun Boysen. Courtney was to win his battle with Johnson and finish first, but Sowell lost his and finished fourth.[14]

Sowell was an excellent runner indoors as well as outdoors, winning 4 NCAA titles and establishing a world record 1:50.3 for 880 yards.[10]

In 1956, Sowell was a member of teams that set world records in the 4 x 440y and 4 x 880y relays.[5]

The son of a Pittsburgh city-council maintenance man,[9] and a 1953 graduate of Schenley High School, Arnie Sowell attended the University of Pittsburgh[4] where he was a successful member of the Pitt Panthers track and field team.[15][16] Whilst at Pitt, Sowell ran successfully for his college, winning the 1954 and 1956 880 yards NCAA titles. In 2007, Sowell was one of the guests of honour at a celebration of fellow Olympian and Pitt alumnus Herb Douglas on his 85th birthday at a celebration at the Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh.[17]

After leaving college in 1957 with a business degree, Sowell embarked on a career in the military, finally retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1980. Also after graduation, Sowell married a fellow Pitt graduate of that year, Barbara Peace, who had studied arts and sciences.[18] Sowells admittance in 1957 to the Fort Benning U.S. Army Training School as a second lieutenant was viewed as newsworthy at the time.[19] Sowell continued his running career into 1959 as a representative of the US Army, where he competed on the pentathlon team.[20][21]

Sowell was a prize-winning athlete during his time at Pitt, winning the annual 'Charles C. Hartwig' award in 1956[22] Sowell has never been forgotten as a famous alumnus of Pitt and as a distinguished member of the African-American community. For this he has received accolades from the African American Alumni Council (AAAC) and the 1996 Award of Distinction by the Varsity Letter Club.[18][23]

After the military, Sowell worked as a procurement director for the Charlotte (North Carolina) Housing Authority.[18]


Sowell was ranked among the best in the USA and the world at 800 metres/880 yards from 1954 to 1957, according to the votes of the experts of Track and Field News.[24][25]

800 meters
Year World rank US rank
1954 9th 3rd
1955 3rd 1st
1956 5th 2nd
1957 6th 3rd

USA Championships

Sowell was a very successful competitor at 800 metres/880 yards at the USA National Track and Field Championships between 1955 and 1958.:[26]

USA Championships
Year 800m/880y
1955 - 880y 1st
1956 - 800m 1st
1957 - 880y 2nd
1958 - 880y 5th


  1. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Arnie Sowell". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  2. ^ "Memorializing Alum John Woodruff's 1936 Olympic Gold Medal". Pitt Chronicle. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh. October 24, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  3. ^ "They're Off!". Sports Illustrated. January 27, 1958. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Anne Madarasz (April 2006). "Sports History: Precious Medals'". Pittsburgh Sports Report. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Imre Matrahazi (ed.). Progression of IAAF World Records 2011 Edition. IAAF Athletics. p. 523.
  6. ^ Arnie Sowell runs so soft, Sports Illustrated, May 30, 1955. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Arnold Sowell". Sports Illustrated. March 7, 1955. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  8. ^ "Down Under in November". Boys' Life. June 1956. Retrieved February 25, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c "Arnie Sowell 'Runs So Soft'". Sports Illustrated. May 30, 1955. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  10. ^ a b "Four Garden Duels". Sports Illustrated. February 18, 1957. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  11. ^ "Courtney meets Arnie Sowell". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. February 11, 1956. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  12. ^ "RECORD BREAKERS". Sports Illustrated. June 25, 1956. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  13. ^ R Hymans (2008). "The History of the United States Olympic Trials - Track & Field" (PDF). USA Track & Field. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 23, 2018. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  14. ^ "A Star-spangled Symphony". Sports Illustrated. December 3, 1956. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  15. ^ "Pitt and the Olympic Games". Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  16. ^ "Pitt Athletics Timeline". June 6, 2006. Archived from the original on June 21, 2013. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  17. ^ "An Olympian happy 85th". PittChronicle. May 29, 2007. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  18. ^ a b c Sally Neiser (March 1997). "Alumni Association Notebook". Pitt Magazine. Archived from the original on June 12, 2010. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  19. ^ "Arnie Sowell, Pitt Flash, At Fort Benning". Memphis World. Rhodes College Digital Archive Systems. October 2, 1957. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  20. ^ School chum joins Sowell in Pentathlon, Armored Sentinel (Temple, Tex.), Vol. 17, No. 15, Ed. 1, June 19, 1959. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  21. ^ "Picture Runner May Get His Chance To Square Old Accounts Here". Milwaukee Journal. March 3, 1959. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
  22. ^ Carl Hughes (April 24, 1956). "Pitt Honors Sports Champions". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
  23. ^ "Pitt's distinguished black alumni to be honored". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 12, 1987.
  24. ^ "World Rankings Index--Men's 800 meters" (PDF). Track and Field News. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 14, 2011. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  25. ^ "U.S. Rankings Index--Men's 800 meters" (PDF). Track and Field News. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 24, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  26. ^ "A History Of The Results Of The National Track & Field Championships Of The USA From 1876 Through 2003". Track and Field News. Archived from the original on June 9, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2012.