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Bob Schul, first American to win Olympic 5000m gold, dies at 86

Bob Schul

The final of the Men’s 5000 Metres at the Tokyo Olympics, 1st October 1964. American athlete Bob Schul (719) wins the gold medal and West Germany’s Harald Norpoth (209) the silver. Also pictured are Michel Jazy of France (124) who finished fourth, Kipchoge ‘Kip’ Keino of Kenya (388) in fifth and Bill Baillie of New Zealand (468) in sixth. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Bob Schul, the lone American to win an Olympic 5000m gold medal, died Sunday at age 86, according to World Athletics and his alma mater, Miami University in Ohio.

Schul won the 1964 Tokyo Olympic men’s 5000m in 13 minutes, 48.8 seconds, edging German Harald Norpoth by eight tenths of a second. Schul was in fifth place going into the final lap.

“When we were in the last lap, coming around the turn, everybody was still there – there were probably 10 people,” Schul said, according to a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee story in 2019. “I got boxed in. I couldn’t get out, so I kept moving to the right a little bit, every step I took, and I forced the guys to go wider.”

Schul was joined on the podium by fellow American Bill Dellinger, who took bronze, two tenths behind Norpoth.

Four days earlier, Billy Mills became the first American to win an Olympic 10,000m title. Like with Schul in the 5000m, no American man or woman has won Olympic gold at the distance since 1964.

Schul also held the world record for two miles and the U.S. records for 5000m and three miles, according to World Athletics.

Schul walked onto the Miami University team in 1956. He joined the Air Force in 1960, then returned to Miami in 1963. He was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1991.