Willie Davenport
Davenport at the 1968 Olympics
Personal information
Full nameWilliam D. Davenport
BornJune 8, 1943 (1943-06-08)
Troy, Alabama, U.S.
DiedJune 17, 2002 (2002-06-18) (aged 59)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Alma materSouthern University
Height6 ft 1 in (185 cm)
Weight185 lb (84 kg)
SportSprint running
ClubBaton Rouge Track Club
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)100 yd – 9.5 (1968)
100 m – 10.3 (1969)
110 mh – 13.33 (1968)[1]
Medal record
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1968 Mexico City 110 m hurdles
Bronze medal – third place 1976 Montréal 110 m hurdles
Pan American Games
Silver medal – second place 1967 Winnipeg 110 m hurdles

William "Willie" D. Davenport (June 8, 1943 – June 17, 2002) was an American sprint runner. He attended Howland High School and college at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He competed in the 110 m hurdles at the 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics, winning a gold medal in 1968 and a bronze in 1976, and finishing fourth in 1972. In 1980 he took part in the Winter Olympics as a runner for the American bobsleigh team. Because of the boycott, and the quirk of participating in the Winter Olympics, he was the only U.S. track and field athlete to participate in the 1980 Olympics.[1][2]

Davenport took part in his first Olympics in 1964, but injured his thigh and was eliminated in the semifinals. In Mexico City in 1968, he reached the final and won: "From the first step, the gun, I knew I had won the race." In 1972 he finished fourth, and in his third consecutive Olympic 110 m hurdles final, in 1976, he won a bronze medal. At his last Olympics in 1980 he was a bobsleigh runner, ending up 12th in the four-man competition. Davenport's other achievements include five national championships in the 60 yard hurdles indoor event.[1] By participating in the 1980 bobsleigh competition, he became one of the first two African Americans to compete in the bobsled in the Winter Olympics. Jeff Gadley, a decathlete from State University of New York at Plattsburgh, competed internationally in the four-man bobsled for the US the year before the Lake Placid Olympics, then Davenport joined Gadley's team right before the 1980 Olympics. Davenport drew much media attention, but was not the first. Long before Willie, Mabel Fairbanks, born in 1915 in Florida, competed in figure skating, yet was often denied entry to figure skating rinks and qualifying competitions that would have allowed her to compete in US national and Olympic competition. With her knowledge as a top figure skater, she coached Kristi Yamaguchi, Debbie Thomas, and others to top Winter Olympic performances.

Davenport was a member of the Southern Jaguars football team in college, and immediately departed the 1968 Olympics after winning the gold to join the team for the final games.[3] He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints as a wide receiver in the sixth round (138th overall) of the 1969 NFL/AFL draft, but a misunderstanding about his college eligibility prompted the Saints to withdraw the selection.[4] When it turned out he was allowed to play, the San Diego Chargers picked him in the 16th round (408th overall) but he and the team could not agree to a contract.[5] The Saints drafted him again in 1970 in the 12th round (296th overall) as a defensive back, though he did not join them either.[6][7]

In 1985, Davenport competed at the Masters Outdoor World Championship in Rome.[8]

Davenport was a U.S. Army private at the time of his first Olympic participation, he was a Colonel in the United States Army National Guard at the time of his death. He died of a heart attack at age 59 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on June 17, 2002.[9]

In 1977 he was inducted into the Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame,[10] and in 1982 into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Willie Davenport". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020.
  2. ^ Hymans, Richard. "The History of the United States Olympic Trials – Track & Field" (PDF). USA Track & Field.
  3. ^ Garner, Jim (February 13, 1969). "A Matter of Finance". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Retrieved July 25, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  4. ^ "Saints Draft Track Star Davenport". Times-News. UP. January 29, 1969. Retrieved July 25, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ Florence, Mal (February 9, 1969). "'Got to Try 18 Feet to Make It,' Seagren Explains". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 25, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ Hand, Jack (February 1, 1970). "Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Browns, 49ers Get Help". Springfield News-Leader. Retrieved July 25, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ "Willie Davenport Has Olympic 'Gold Fever'". The Times. August 2, 1970. Retrieved July 25, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ National Masters News, August 1985 PDF page 25 of 44. [1] Retrieved January 6, 2021
  9. ^ Haskell, Bob (June 20, 2002) Five-Time Olympian Col. Willie Davenport Remembered. DefenseLink News Article.
  10. ^ Willie Davenport. Mtsacrelays.com. Retrieved on 2015-06-14.
  11. ^ Hall of Fame. USATF. Retrieved on 2015-06-14.

Further reading

Records Preceded by Earl McCullouch Men's 110m Hurdles World Record Holder July 4, 1969 – September 2, 1972 Succeeded by Rodney Milburn Sporting positions Preceded byUnknown Men's 110m Hurdles Best Year Performance 1966 Succeeded by Earl McCullouch Preceded by Earl McCullouch Men's 110m Hurdles Best Year Performance 1968–1969 Succeeded by Thomas Hill