Last Morgan medalist on track, thanks to Cosby

August 04, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

When the new running track at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, is dedicated Aug. 30, it will be a monument to two people who in the eyes of the school are very special.

After donating the money for the track, actor Bill Cosby insisted it bear the name of Josh Culbreath, the school's coach.

Cosby and Culbreath go back 35 years, to the 1950s, when they were in the service at Quantico, Va., after Culbreath came out of Morgan State and won a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympics -- Morgan's most recent Olympic medal before yesterday when Jack Pierce earned a bronze in the 110-meter high hurdles.

Culbreath, 59, helped Cosby get a track scholarship to Temple. He is godfather to Cosby's son. Cosby was best man at Culbreath's wedding in November 1990 and will be godfather to his 4-month-old daughter.

For a dozen years, beginning when Cosby ballooned to 200 pounds, Culbreath has been the actor's personal fitness trainer. He has run with him in celebrity races and appeared on two Cosby TV shows.

Before he met Cosby, when he was in high school in Norristown, Pa., Culbreath was the Pennsylvania state champion in the 200-yard hurdles and the No. 2 schoolboy in the event in the country.

He had scholarship offers galore, but wound up at Morgan in 1951 at the insistence of his sister, who was impressed by the photos of Morgan stars Art Bragg, George Rhoden and Sam La Beach that she had seen in Ebony magazine.

"She called Morgan's coach, Eddie Hurt, for an interview," Culbreath said. "I went to get her off my back."

At Morgan, Culbreath became one of the few athletes to win three Penn Relays titles and was undefeated in the 400-meter hurdles from 1953 until the U.S. Olympic trials in 1956. In the Marines at the time, he spent part of his allotted five weeks of training under Hurt, his old Morgan coach.

Glenn Davis broke the world record with a 49.5-second clocking in the trials, as did runner-up Eddie Southern, while Culbreath tied the mark of 50.4 in finishing third.

The three went to Melbourne as the Olympic favorites and didn't disappoint. To this day, Culbreath is irked that he drew the inside lane, which "was like a beach" from the churning by runners' feet in the previous event, the 10,000-meter run.

Still, he managed to finish third behind Davis and Southern, giving the United States its first sweep of the Games. A photo of the three appeared as the centerfold in Life magazine as they stood on the victory stand.

"When I got back to Quantico, the commandant congratulated me because I had my index finger on the seam of my sweatsuit during the national anthem," Culbreath said. "He said I was the only one standing tall."

Culbreath ran in the first U.S.-Soviet Union dual meet, taught school, coached U.S. national teams and worked as a consultant in industry on minority hiring and affirmative action programs.

His early retirement in 1985 was short-lived. Four years ago, Cosby urged him to take the coaching position at Central State, which hadn't produced a decent track team since the 1960s.

Central State's women have captured the last two NAIA championships, the men have twice been runners-up and Culbreath was acclaimed 1992 NAIA co-Coach of the Year.

Now, thanks to an old friend, he's going to have a track named for him.

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