David Bolen competing in 1948.
David Bolen competing in 1948. (Courtesy Cynthia Bolen)

David Bolen says he didn't train for the Olympics. Instead, he was born with a natural talent.

"The Olympics is not something you train for. You have to have talent, world-class talent," Bolen said. "You have to use that talent for the benefit of yourself and others."

Bolen, now 88 and living in Arizona, competed in the Olympics the last time they were held in London. That was back in 1948, when he was 25.

He was also the first student the University of Colorado sent to the games.

This year, CU boasts six athletes with university ties, including two current students.

Bolen completed the 400-meter run at the 1948 London Olympics in 47.2 seconds, earning fourth place.

Olympian David Bolen at his home in Arizona.
Olympian David Bolen at his home in Arizona. (Courtesy Cynthia Bolen)

"My favorite memory was marching into the stadium on Olympic Day with the whole team," he said. "That day I knew I was on the world's stage. I went onward and upward, being motivated by athletics, realizing what you have to do to be the best.

"You can't just be mediocre in the Olympics."

Bolen was born in Heflin, La. His family moved to Grambling, La., when his dad got a job as a postal worker.

"I was thin, so thin that people thought that I had some kind of problem," Bolen said of his childhood and teenage years. "I got so sick of people rattling me because of my skinny legs. So I used to get up early in the morning and run. Run from my home in Grambling to Highway 80," about five miles.

"I did it continuously, every morning," he said. "I wasn't training for the Olympics. I was trying to change my image to one that was strong, worthy of drawing a left hook."

It wasn't until high school that others would discover Bolen's running abilities. He began as a basketball player at Louisiana Normal High School, but one day, when he won a friendly race against a member of the track team, he was forced to reconsider his athletic future.

"Right then, the track coach came out to me and asked me if I'd come out for track," Bolen said.

He ran track in high school, then went on to Southern University in Louisiana, where he specialized in the 440-yard dash. He dropped out temporarily to enlist in the Army from 1943 to 1946 before enrolling at the University of Colorado, again taking up track and racing around the world.

It was during his time at CU that Bolen competed at the Olympics.

"It made me feel good to be the first CU student as an Olympian," he said.

Bolen's daughter, Cynthia Bolen-Nieland, said she learned her sense of pride and determination from her father.

"What fascinates me about my dad is this: When you look at his feet, you think, 'Wow, those are the feet of one of the fastest men in the world,'" she said. "It's fascinating how the human body has the innate talent to do great things."

Following his time as an Olympian and his graduation from CU, Bolen competed with all-star track and field teams under the Amateur Athletic Union in the United States and internationally.

He went on to become ambassador to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland in 1974 and the German Democratic Republic in 1977.

In September 2000, Bolen was inducted into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I have a title that I'm proud of -- that title is 'Olympian,'" Bolen said. "The other is 'ambassador.' Those titles will be with me the rest of my life."

He can't make it to the London Olympics this year, but Bolen will be watching the races on television.

"My main advice to the athletes from CU, and to young people in general, is this: You may have athletic ability -- as a basketball player, a track athlete -- but you're in school to get an education. You're not there to run or jump," Bolen said.

"It's important for young people to focus on education. Get good grades. Obey your elders. And if they do that, we'll have a better country."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Cory Lamz at 303-473-1361 or lamzc@dailycamera.com.