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Editor and Contributing Writer

Photograph: Rodney Milburn in 1991

Rodney Milburn, the Opelousas-born hurdler and Olympic gold medalist who never lost a championship collegiate race, is scheduled to receive another honorary award that augments an illustrious amateur and professional track and field career.

Milburn who tragically died in a 1997 industrial accident, is one of 30 inaugural inductees that will be inducted during a June 6 ceremony by the Collegiate Athletic Hall of Fame for Track and Field and Cross Country Association in Eugene, Or.

The USTFCCA induction for Milburn and the other track and field legends will be held at the Hult Center for Performing Arts in a ceremony that is open and free publicly.

An April press release obtained by St. Landry Now, indicates that the two-hour event will be telecast live by YouTube.

Milburn and the other athletes inducted collectively recorded 99 world records and 19 Olympic gold medals.

Among the retired track and field athletes to be inducted along with Milburn include Carl Lewis, Jessie Owens, Steve Prefontaine, Wilma Rudolph and Jim Ryun.

The Milburn Story Revisited

Milburn’s illustrious athletic career in which he set six certified world records, began humbly at J.S. Clark High during the 1960’s has been well-documented in articles and books.

Known as “Dice” around his Opelousas neighborhood, Milburn initially wanted to be a sprinter at J.S. Clark, but Claude Paxton, his high school coach, instead made Milburn a hurdler, who developed and practiced on the school’s grass track.

Some of Milburn’s friends recall that occasionally Milburn would sometimes secretly visit the more updated track surface and better constructed hurdles at Opelousas High in order to perform his individual workouts.

During his J.S. Clark high school career, Milburn competed in the Interscholastic Athlete and Literary Organization before signing a scholarship at Southern University.

By 1971 as a sophomore at Southern, Milburn was named World Athlete of The Year after winning NCAA titles in the 120-yard hurdles.

Rodney Milburn in 1972.

The following year Milburn qualified for the Olympics in Munich where he broke the word 110-yard hurdle record (13.24) and won a gold medal during the same race.

From 1971-73, Milburn reached the apex of his career. During that time he won all 12 of his indoor and outdoor races, which enabled him to be recognized as the world’s best hurdler.

Milburn won 27 consecutive races and a pair of NCAA titles in the 120 hurdles (1971 and 1973). In 1973 Milburn also won the 60-yard NCAA indoor hurdles championship.

His decision to pursue a professional track career prevented Milburn from qualifying for the 1976 Olympics and in 1980 after having his amateur status reinstated, the U.S. Olympic officials decided not to compete in the Moscow Olympics that year.

For several years during the 1980’s Milburn was a track coach at Southern. In 1988 he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Writer’s Hall of Fame.

Tributes in Opelousas

Milburn has a section dedicated to his accomplishments at the Opelousas Museum and Interpretative Center.

The exhibit contains several of his first place medals and a replica of the gold medal that Milburn won in 1972.

Olympics officials sent the duplicate gold medal to the museum many years ago to be included as part of the Milburn Collection. Patrice Melnick, the current museum director said that U.S. Olympic officials check annually to see if the gold medal distributed to the museum by the organization is still located there.

Duplicate Gold Medal in the Rodney Milburn Exhibit at the Opelousas Museum and Interpretive Center in Opelousas, Louisiana. (Photograph by Bobby Ardoin.)

Earlier this year Melnick said the museum received a box from a Baton Rouge area memorabilia collector that included several bronze plaques for National Track and Field Federation races that Milburn won for races held in Europe.

Melnick said the location of Milburn’s authentic gold medal is still unknown.

In 1992 city officials dedicated Rodney Milburn Boulevard, which runs through North City Park.

Rodney Milburn is pictured on the ladder during the naming of Rodney Milburn, Jr. Blvd. in Opelousas, LA in 1992. Pictured with Milburn are Councilmen Mike Thibodeaux (left) and Walter Richard (right).

End of the Story

Milburn was 47 when he died in 1997 after he apparently fell into a tank car filled with noxious chemicals whose temperatures had heightened to scalding levels.

A Los Angeles Times article published in connection with Milburn’s death indicates that investigators searching for the causes of Milburn’s death concluded that he probably fell into the tank car unintentionally and died after receiving third degree burns over 100 percent of his body.

St. Landry Now photographer Freddie Herpin remembers Milburn’s funeral ceremony at Little Zion Church.

“It was probably the most attended funeral ever in Opelousas,” said Herpin who photographed the event for the Daily World newspaper.

Milburn’s former Southern teammate and 1968 Olympic gold medalist Willie Davenport attended the funeral along with Thomas Hill, a 1979 Olympic bronze medalist.

The funeral procession led to Green Chapel Cemetery where Milburn is buried.