Dr. LeRoy Walker, a historic leader in the U.S. Olympic movement and a hugely accomplished coach and educator in North Carolina, died Monday in Durham, his home for more than 60 years. He was 93.
The grandson of slaves, Walker led the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1992 to 1996, shepherding the Summer Games staged in his native Atlanta and leading the group when the 2002 Winter Olympics were awarded to Salt Lake City.
In his long life, he overcame poverty and discrimination to earn honors as an athlete and coach, but he also was an academic. He was the first African-American to earn a doctorate in biomechanics, and he went on to become chancellor of N.C. Central University.
The Atlanta Games were widely panned across the globe, and Walker warned his countrymen the U.S. was not likely to host another games for a long time after Salt Lake City. He repeated his warnings after a bribery scandal threatened to derail the 2002 Winter Games, and so far, his prediction has been true.
Walker coached Olympic track and field teams from Ethiopia, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago before his home country gave him a chance to be the first black head coach of a U.S. Olympic team when he led the track squad to Montreal in 1976.
That team brought home 22 medals, including gold in the long jump, discus, decathlon, 400-meter hurdles and both men’s relays.
Current U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Scott Blackmun said Walker’s effect on the U.S. Olympic movement and track and field will be felt for generations to come. Walker is survived by a son, LeRoy Jr., and a daughter, Carolyn Walker Hopp.