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Wednesday, 23 September 2020 17:16

As is the case with many large events this year, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have been delayed until next year. This came to mind when I received a phone call from someone looking for additional information about local Norristown Olympian, Joshua Culbreath.

He participated in the 1956 summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the games were held from November 22 to December 8. On opening night, Culbreath was interviewed. See his statement in the Times Herald below.

 opening night quote

Times Herald, November 23, 1956

Culbreath's sport was the 400 meter hurdle. At only five foot seven inches tall, few people expected him to win the bronze medal. In addition to winning the bronze medal, Culbreath was also the first U.S. Marine serving in active duty to participate in an Olympic games.

 bronze

Times Herald, November 24, 1956

Culbreath grew up in Norristown and his first track coach was Rittenhouse Junior High School history teacher, Vince Farina. While at Norristown Area High School, Culbreath won the 400 meter hurdles in the PIAA state championship. He also won the Penn Relays three times. In addition to track, Culbreath played other sports while at Norristown Area High School, including football and basketball.

JV Football

Culbreath (top left) on the JV Football team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

Culbreath's success in track earned him a scholarship to Morgan State University. He was the U.S. outdoor champion three years in a row from 1953 to 1955. He ran as the anchor on the relay team with Herman Wade, Otis "Jet" Johnson, and Dr. James Rodgers. They were dubbed "The Flying Four." Culbreath set world records at competitions in Bendigo, Australia and Oslo, Norway. He also won the Pan American Games twice, in 1955 and 1959.

JV Basketball

Culbreath (bottom right) on the JV Basketball team, Spice Yearbook 1949, HSMC Collection

After serving in the Marines, Culbreath coached at Rittenhouse Middle School and later earned his Master of Arts degree from Temple Univeristy in 1988. He became the track and field coach at Central State Univeristy in Ohio, where his team won 10 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships. Four of Culbreath's athletes competed in the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, one of whom was Deon Hemmings the gold medal winner in the 400 hurdles.

Lastly, here's a cool side note. Five Saints Distilling, located in the former Humane Fire Engine Co. #1 building in Norristown, created a drink named after Culbreath! It's a gin drink known as the Culbreath Smash.

five saints 

Source:

"Olympic Medalist and orristown Native Joshua Culbreath Reflects on Live on Eve of MontCo. Hall of fame Induction." Times Herald. November 24, 2013.https://www.timesherald.com/sports/olympic-medalist-and-norristown-native-joshua-culbreath-reflects-on-life-on-eve-of-montco-hall/article_130c4c87-3882-520c-8709-81b5bde80dbd.html

Francisco Espinoza Duenas

Montgomery County Agricultural Extension