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Track champ Rod Milburn dies; had somehow fallen into chemical

November 13, 1997

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Rod Milburn, who won a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in the 110-meter hurdles, was found dead in a rail car full of a caustic chemical at the paper plant where he worked. He was 47.

There was no indication of how Milburn wound up in the chemical solution Tuesday at the Georgia Pacific plant near Baton Rouge. Authorities said they did not suspect foul play.

Milburn had been assigned to unload the rail car, which contained liquid sodium chlorate, a chemical used in the bleaching process of paper making, said Patty Prats-Swanson, a spokeswoman for Georgia Pacific.

He was found in the car, submerged in the chemical, late Tuesday by a supervisor who went looking for him when he failed to answer a page. Preliminary autopsy results showed that Milburn died after inhaling the solution and suffering massive burns to his body.

Lt. Don Strickland said there was nothing to indicate criminal activity.

Milburn, a native of Opelousas and a track star for Southern University in Baton Rouge, won the gold medal in 13.24 seconds, a record that was not broken for five years.

The year before the Olympics at Munich, he went undefeated and won 27 consecutive amateur finals.

After 1972, Milburn turned to professional track but resumed his amateur competition in 1980 and was ranked fifth in the world. He remained world ranked until his retirement in 1983.

Milburn coached track at Southern from 1984 to 1987 before taking the job at Georgia Pacific in 1988. He often worked with young athletes, and he carried the 1996 Olympic torch on the Southern campus when it came through Baton Rouge, said Southern University track coach Johnny Thomas.

Back when Milburn was setting records at Southern, Thomas taught athletics at an elementary school and often brought his students to the university to see Milburn practice.

``I was not used to seeing a man run hurdles in 13.2 seconds,″ Thomas said. ``I just couldn’t believe how at ease, how fluid, how cat-like he was, just as if no obstacles were there.″

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