Brentwood’s Clifford Bourland was a 1948 Olympic Gold Medalist
by Luci E. Araníbar
By Brentwood News August 2012 | August 20, 2012
Mr. B., as we like to call him, is now 91 years old; he still plays golf and is always ready for a good laugh. Clifford Bourland (Cliff) was born in Venice, California in 1921. He attended Venice High School and during his senior year he didn’t know he had a gift, he just knew he liked to play tennis.
That year, the school coach, Berry Europe, asked him to join the athletic team. To his own surprise, tall, thin, long-legged Cliff Bourland won his first competition race against the best runner of the school. Soon after, he competed against all Los Angeles schools, winning again and again. And from then on many more medals would be handed to him.
Maybe fate, or maybe coincidence, but after Cliff Bourland won one competition, Edward Leahy, a young athlete, approached him to ask if he would like to go to USC. “Well, nobody else had made me any offers”, he answered.
His new friend Edward introduced him to the USC coach Dean Cromwell. Cliff Bourland demonstrated his running skills and became part of the track and field team participating in the 200 meter race. In 1942 and 1943 he would win the AAU championships in the 400 meter and the NCAA championships in 440 yards.
Due to WWII, Cliff Bourland went to serve in the Navy as Captain of a landing craft tank. In 1947, then 26 years old, his decision to make a return to USC would make a great turn in his life. Not as young an athlete, he thought of running as a matter of keeping himself in shape.
One more time, Cliff Bourland’s long-time friend Edward and Coach Cromwell saw a potential athlete in him, but this time for the Olympics. “I was not in as great shape as in 1944, but I qualified third for the Olympics” he explains.
The trip lasted two weeks, time was precious and the team would need to train just by running around the deck. “They were different times,” said shy Cliff Bourland. Food was limited and the athletes were not an exception. The lack of food and other limitations would not take away the Olympic Games main purpose, to bring all countries together.
During the preliminaries, Cliff Bourland qualified for the 200 m. At the day of the competition, the Jamaican team used all the starting blocks brought by the U.S. team, leaving Cliff Bourland no choice other than to dig with his hand a hole to support his foot; his start was delayed and the result, a fourth place.
Coach Cromwell, seeing Cliff Bourland’s frustration, decided to place him in the next 4 x 400 relays. He was going to compete against the best relay team, the Jamaicans. The challenge was there and he was more than ready for that.
Cliff Bourland was the second leg, his opponent and he were even at the start but not for too long, he beat his Jamaican opponent by 15 yards. He made a record running 400 m. in 47.3 seconds, which granted the relay team the gold medal.
“It was nice to be there. It’s a proud moment when you hear the Star Spangled Banner and when you meet friends that you will never forget.”
With great emotion he said: “I hope the 2012 U.S. Olympic team enjoys the Olympic Games as much as I did. It was a wonderful thing in my life. I met a lot of people, good solid people and friendly people. It’s a good thing. Everything is good.”
About the author: Luz E. Aranibar was born in La Paz, Bolivia and studied Mass Media Communications at the Bolivian Catholic University. She worked as communications consultant and freelance journalist in her country of origin. Her feature writings were mostly about Latin American Literature and the health and mortality of women and children. She is a U.S. citizen and has lived in Los Angeles the last eight years. She recently started a blog about downtown Los Angeles: “DT Los Angeles View.”
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