US Olympian who created history as a diplomat dies just before 99th birthday

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US Olympian who created history as a diplomat dies just before 99th birthday
By Duncan Mackay

The United States’ Dave Bolen, who finished fourth in a celebrated 400 metres race at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, has died a few days short of his 99th birthday, it has been reported.

The race was won by Jamaica’s Arthur Wint, coming from almost 10m back to catch team-mate and world record holder Herb McKenley.

It was Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medal in any event and broke a string of three consecutive American victories in the men’s 400m stretching back to Amsterdam 1928.

Bolen narrowly missed a medal as he finished fourth in 47.2sec, just three-hundredths of a second behind American team-mate Mal Whitfield.

In 2012, Bolen told The Boulder Daily Camera that, “The Olympics is not something you train for.

“You have to have talent, world-class talent.

“You have to use that talent for the benefit of yourself and others.”

(Dave Bolen, far right, finished fourth in an historic Olympic 400m at London 1948 as Arthur Wint won Jamaica's first gold medal ©Getty Images)

Bolen had first discovered that he had that talent when he raced other children during an Easter egg hunt during his childhood and found that he was faster.

He later decided he wanted to use his “foot speed” to gain a college education.

Bolen graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1950 and was its first Olympic athlete.

Before serving for two years in the Army Air Force during World War Two, he attended Southern University in New Orleans, but after his service, he was recruited by University of Colorado Boulder track and field coach Frank Potts.

Outstanding though he was on the track, Bolen enjoyed an even more glittering career as a US diplomat.

After graduating from university, Bolen joined the US Foreign Service and served around the world in places that included Liberia, Pakistan, Yugoslavia and Ghana.

(Dave Bolen was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the United States’ Ambassador to East Germany ©US Foreign Service)

In 1974, President Richard Nixon appointed Bolen US Ambassador to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Later, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Bolen Ambassador to East Germany, making him the first black US diplomat to serve behind the Iron Curtain in Europe, a role he held until 1980.

As an Ambassador to East Berlin, Bolen helped to lay the groundwork for the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

On November 9 in 1989, the day the Wall came down, Bolen’s daughter, Cynthia, was photographed handing a long-stemmed rose to an East German border guard standing atop the wall.

Bolen also worked to help free South Africa’s Nelson Mandela from prison.

Bolen later revealed that he believed his roles as an athlete and diplomat linked together.

“I saw what sports could do for world peace and prosperity, and bringing people together,” Bolen said.

(Dave Bolen’s daughter Cynthia was pictured handing a flower to an East German border guard on top of the Berlin Wall on the day it collapsed in
November 1989 ©Cynthia Bolden)

Bolen told the Denver Post in 2016, “There are two positions that I’ve had that nobody can take away from me.
“I’m an Olympian, and I’m an Ambassador.

“I believe I contributed a great deal to my country.”

Bolen died on December 10, 13 days before his 99th birthday, but his death has only just been officially announced.

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