Willye White

Biographical information

Medals OG
Gold 0
Silver 2
Bronze 0
Total 2
TypeCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameWillye Brown•White
Used nameWillye•White
Born31 December 1939 in Money, Mississippi (USA)
Died6 February 2007 in Chicago, Illinois (USA)
Measurements163 cm / 56 kg
AffiliationsMayor Daley Youth Foundation, Chicago (USA)
NOC United States


Willye White first competed in the Olympic Games in 1956 at Melbourne when she was only a 16-year-old high school sophomore. Despite her youth, she won a silver medal in the long jump behind Poland’s Elżbieta Krzesińska. She also competed in the long jump at the 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 Olympics, where she made the finals each time, although never again as a medalist. However, in 1964, she ran a leg on the USA’s 4×100 metre relay team, and earned a second silver medal.

White’s 19-11¾ (6.09) long jump, which won her 1956 silver medal, was a US national record. She eventually set seven USA records in the long jump, her last being 21-6 (6.55) in 1964, a mark which stood until 1972. In her career, she won 13 national indoor and outdoor titles, and competed on 34 international teams, including the 1959, 1963, 1967, and 1971 Pan American teams for the United States. There she won gold in 1963 and bronze in 1959 and 1967 long jump. At the 1963 Pan American Games she also won gold with the 4×100 metres team (with Vivian Brown, Marilyn White, and the non-Olympian Norma Harris).

Despite her athletic career she may be less remembered for that than her legacy as a person. One of her 1960 Olympic teammates, Donna de Varona, later a close friend, noted, “She grew up before the civil rights movement and overcame all the hurdles she had as an African-American woman.” White later commented, “I started in athletics because athletics was my flight to freedom. Freedom from the delta cotton fields, bias, and prejudice of the South. I had no other choice. … Before my first Olympics, I though the whole world consisted of cross burnings and lynchings.” She also noted of her Olympic career, “The Olympic Movement taught me not to judge a person by the color of their skin but by the contents of their hearts. I am who I am because of my participation in sports.”

White attended Tennesee State University, where she competed for the renowned Tigerbelles track & field teams. She moved to Chicago in 1960 and became a nurse, first at Cook County Hospital, then at the Greenwood Medical Center. In 1965 she became a public health administrator at the Chicago Health Department. Though she had not originally graduated from college, she returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree from Chicago State University in 1976.

White remained active in sports, teaching and coaching athletes. She coached and managed at the 1981 World Cup and was head coach at the 1994 US Olympic Festival. In 1990, she founded WBW Hang on Productions, a sports and fitness consultancy. In 1991 she founded the Willye White Foundation, helping children to become productive citizens by teaching sports and teamwork to children in the nation’s largest housing project. The Foundation included an after-school program, a summer day-camp, and healthcare for the children.

De Varona noted, “For all the struggles she went through, she always gave back, she was always campaigning for equal education, equal rights.” Another Olympic teammate, Pat Connolly (1960), spoke of her, “She was like a big sister. … It was a very unlikely friendship. I was raised a Mormon. … I knew nothing about blacks. … I had my eyes opened when I made the Olympic team and Wilma Rudolph and Cassius Clay and all these people became my teammates, but it was Willye who helped me learn and understand everything I needed to know. … She was one of America’s best ambassadors for sport and humanity.”

Personal Bests: 100 – 11.5 (1964); LJ – 21-6 (6.55) (1964).


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1956 Summer Olympics Athletics USA Willye White
Long Jump, Women (Olympic) 2 Silver
1960 Summer Olympics Athletics USA Willye White
4 × 100 metres Relay, Women (Olympic) United States DNS
Long Jump, Women (Olympic) 16
1964 Summer Olympics Athletics USA Willye White
4 × 100 metres Relay, Women (Olympic) United States 2 Silver
Long Jump, Women (Olympic) 12
1968 Summer Olympics Athletics USA Willye White
Long Jump, Women (Olympic) 11
1972 Summer Olympics Athletics USA Willye White
Long Jump, Women (Olympic) 11

Special Notes


Date of birth of 1 January 1939 is wrong.