Dave Bolen, first Olympian from the University of Colorado and decorated ambassador, dies

Dave Bolen track
AP Photo/William P. Straeter
Dave Bolen, center, wears a University of Colorado jersey competing in the National AAU 400 meter run in Lincoln, Neb., July 5, 1947. Bolen was the first CU athlete in the Olympics, in 1948.

In 1948, Dave Bolen became the first University of Colorado athlete to compete in the Olympics. He finished fourth in the 400-meter track race during the London Summer Olympics. While he missed out on a medal, Bolen went on to have an historic career as a U.S. diplomat. Bolen died this month just shy of his 99th birthday, according to CU.

Born in 1923, Bolen believed his natural talent took him to the Olympics. CU's alumni club says Bolen was unbeaten during the school's 1947 track season and was the 440- and 880-yard run champion of the Mountain States Conference (known as the Big Seven). He anchored CU's undefeated mile relay team. It was these achievements that led Bolen to be inducted into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.

However, it was his career off of the track field that garnered Bolen the George Norlin Award in 1969, CU's highest alumni honor.

After graduating CU in 1950, Bolen joined the Foreign Service as a diplomat. He served in Monrovia, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Ghana, and Washington, D.C., before President Richard Nixon appointed Bolen ambassador to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. Later, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Bolen ambassador to East Germany, making him the first Black ambassador to serve behind the Iron Curtain in Europe.

Reflecting on his career, Bolen told CU that his advice to young people is, “The object is not to win, but to do your best... You may not win, but perform to the best of your ability and develop your maximum potential. And if you do that, and work at it with vigor and determination, you’ll be successful, whatever you plan to do in life.”

Bolen believed his two identities — as Olympic athlete and distinguished diplomat — were related. “I saw what sports could do for world peace and prosperity, and bringing people together,” Bolen said.

Bolen told the Denver Post in 2016, “There are two positions that I’ve had that nobody can take away from me. I’m an Olympian, and I’m an ambassador. I believe I contributed a great deal to my country.”