Art Bragg, Olympic sprinter from Morgan State, dead at 87

Art Bragg didn’t. Brag, that is. About his track exploits at Morgan State or making the 1952 Olympic team or the stacks of plaques and medals squirreled away in his home in Los Angeles.

“Art tended not to dwell on his achievements all those years,” said his wife, Marie Bragg.

A Baltimore native and onetime NCAA sprint champion, Bragg died of cardiac arrest Aug. 25 at a hospital near his residence in Southern California. He was 87.

A star of Morgan State’s mighty track and field teams of the early 1950s, Bragg won four Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association 100-yard dash titles and three 220-yard finals. As a sophomore in 1951, he won the NCAA 100-yard championship in 9.6 seconds. A year later, at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Bragg won again, taking the 100-meter finals in 10.5 seconds.

But there were troubles ahead. Before the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki, Finland, he pulled a hamstring — and aggravated it in an Olympic qualifying heat. His right leg bandaged, Bragg finished last in the semifinals. The gold medal went to teammate Lindy Remigino, whom he’d beaten in the U.S. trials.

“I have no alibi,” Bragg told reporters.

“That sounds like Art,” said Tignor Douglass, a longtime friend. “He never made excuses for anything.”

Douglass, 86, of Henderson, Nev., grew up in West Baltimore and met Bragg in grade school.

“On the playground, we’d race from fence to fence and Art always beat everyone,” said Douglass, a retired engineer. “He was outgoing but not boisterous, and well-liked.”

Helena Hicks, 84, played with Bragg as a child and remembered her cousin as “a runner forever. He was always saying, ‘I can get to the store before you’ or, ‘I’ll beat you to the corner.’ ”

In a 1952 interview with the Baltimore Afro-American, Bragg’s father, Arthur, recalled the time his 5-year-old just took off running.

“We were walking one morning in Harlem Square,” he said. “All of a sudden he said, ‘Daddy, I’m going to do something,’ and with that, he broke away and ran. I tried to catch him but the kid was running so fast that I gave up the chase.”

Passersby, sensing some urgency, tried to corral the youngster, to no avail. Finally, the father said, his son stopped and “a young woman who had seen it all said, ‘That boy has what it takes to be a great runner someday.’ ”

Bragg ran track at Douglass High before attending Morgan State, where he teamed with celebrated athletes like George Rhoden, who won two gold medals in the 1952 Olympics (400 meters and 4x400-meter relay) and Josh Culbreath, a hurdler who won a bronze in 1956. Bragg continued running after college until 1956, when he moved to California to work as a deputy probation officer for Los Angeles County until his retirement in 1993.

A 1974 inductee of the Morgan State Athletic Hall of Fame, he was enshrined a year later into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame.

Bragg stayed active almost to the end, said his wife of 48 years.

“He took a bad fall in January but, prior to that, he was walking as much as three miles a day,” she said. “He didn’t look 87. His body was firm and strong, and he always had handsome legs.”

During the months of recovery that followed, Maria Bragg said, her husband “changed the attitudes of many patients [in physical therapy] with his upbeat attitude. To one downhearted woman who walked by, Art said, ‘Would you save the next dance for me?’ Everyone broke out laughing, and she appreciated that.”

Bragg never forgot a face, his wife said, but his memory was a double-edged sword when he harked back to the 1952 Olympics.

“It always brought sadness to his mind, knowing he’d come so close to his chance to excel before that terrible injury,” she said. “It was something he was never quite able to rise above.”

Besides his wife, Bragg is survived by a son, Arthur Bragg Jr., of Los Angeles. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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