The USA’s Mal Whitfield had won the 800m title at London 1948. However, since then, his life had taken a dramatic turn away from sport, as he enlisted to fight in the Korean War.
He had been in the United States Air Force, acting as a tail-gunner and flying in 27 bomber missions. Yet his desire to pursue his career as an athlete remained undimmed, and he continued to enter events – and to win titles.
His biggest ambition, though, was to retain his Olympic title. In London, he had finished three metres ahead of the Jamaica’s Arthur Wint and, once again, Wint looked likely to be his greatest rival for the gold.
Whitfield was now 27, while Wint, at 32, was clearly entering the final stages of his illustrious career. The Jamaican’s pace had not diminished, though, and he led the field through the first lap, with West Germany's Heinz Ulzheimer in second and Whitfield third.
Whitfield made his move on the back stretch, moving to the front and entering the final bend in the lead. Wint was not finished, though, and fought back, pulling up on the American’s shoulder as the two men entered the final straight with Ulzheimer now in third.
The front pair were almost level as they came to the final 50m, but Whitfield dug deep and somehow produced a hidden reserve of energy to conjure a two-metre advantage and cross the line in one minute 49.2 seconds – equalling the Olympic record he had set four years previously. Wint took silver, despite having run a tenth of a second faster than he had in London.
Whitfield failed to qualify for the 1956 Games and so retired to spend more than 30 years travelling the to more than 130 different countries around the world, setting up goodwill programmes on behalf of the American government.