Published: Aug. 6, 2021

David Bolen's accomplishments in the 1948 Summer Games were only the start of a lifetime spent creating impact on a global scale.

A black-and-white photo of David Bolen running on a track.

David Bolen's achievements on the track got him a spot on the 1948 U.S. Olympic team, but he achieved even greater success in the diplomatic service as an ambassador to four countries. 

In the 2021 Summer Olympic Games, the University of Colorado recorded an important, if not medal-winning, milestone, sending its 100th athlete to compete in Tokyo.

The very first of those Buffs couldn’t be prouder of what the school has accomplished since he placed fourth in the 400-meter run in the 1948 London Olympics. But more important than what Ambassador David Bolen accomplished on the track is the perspective he took away from being an Olympian. 

“I saw what sports could do for world peace and prosperity, and bringing people together,” said Bolen, who studied business and economics as an undergraduate and completed an MBA from CU in 1950, in an interview with the Denver Post.

That led him to a long and distinguished career in diplomatic service, where he served as U.S. ambassador to four countries under presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. 

Bolen’s service in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland helped initiate what would lead to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. Later, he helped lay the foundation for the Berlin Wall’s fall after serving behind the Iron Curtain through his ambassadorship to East Germany.  

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

World-changing perspective from Boulder

Bolen said his participation in the London Olympics, and the Olympic charter specifically, gave him perspective that guided him throughout his career. 

But it was a lesson that started in Boulder.

“Throughout my time at the University of Colorado, my professors and the dean of athletics always emphasized scholarship, character development and winning—if you could,” Bolen said. “The object is not to win, but to do your best. And that’s what I tell all young people. 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.”

When his career in the diplomatic service ended, Bolen worked as associate director of international affairs with Dupont de Nemours. He was inducted into CU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000, and was later named a distinguished alumnus of the Leeds School of Business. He also published “Running Down The Dream: My Journey From The Bayou To The Boardroom.”

And his vision for sports as a catalyst to solving global problems is still felt at Leeds through the Ambassador David Bolen Scholarship. This prestigious award goes to current students who are interested in participating in a global experience, with priority given to those pursuing the Olympic dream whose values exemplify those of Bolen.

Gold bar section divider

“I saw what sports could do for world peace and prosperity, and bringing people together.”

Ambassador David Bolen Bus'50 MBA'50

Bolen chose to study at CU after being meeting Gil Cruter, a track and field star in the late 1930s who graduated from CU and eventually coached in the Denver area. At CU, Bolen was coached by the legendary Frank Potts, who “wanted me to be a good student and a good individual,” Bolen said. “I was motivated by his drive and determination.” 

Colorado isn’t where he learned to prize academic achievement, though. That came from his mother and father, both teachers, who encouraged his scholastic excellence; he was homeschooled by his mother in his native Heflin, Louisiana, and said his upbringing taught him how to make strong relationships with people. 

Now going on 98, Bolen remains convinced of the role sports can play in unifying the world. He's avidly watching as the 2021 Summer Games play out, and remains convinced of the role athletes will play in helping “societies cross new horizons—not only technologically, but in terms of developing better relations among peoples. I really feel that will be one of the crowning achievements of the 21st century.”

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