North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
Born and raised in rural Raeford, McMillan had never heard of the Olympics before her track coach at Hoke County High School, William Colston, told her that she might be a good enough long jumper to make the U.S. team for the 1976 Games in Montreal.
“I didn’t know what the Olympic team was,” she said in January upon her induction as an inaugural member of the North Carolina High School Track & Field Hall of Fame. “But I had faith in what he was saying.”
That faith was rewarded a few months later when the 18-year-old broke the U.S. women’s record with a jump of 22 feet, 3 inches at an AAU meet in Los Angeles. Her leap was more than 2 feet farther than any high school woman had ever recorded and is still the second-best in history. And it turned out to be the springboard that landed her a spot on the Olympic team.
McMillan had already won four consecutive NCHSAA championships in the long jump to go along with the five state titles she won in sprint events.
But the crowning achievement of her career came just one month after receiving her high school diploma when she brought home an Olympic silver medal from Montreal. She came literally a toenail away from winning the gold when a marginal foul negated what would have been a jump of 22-4½.
McMillan went on to a successful career at Tennessee State, where she won two national AAU titles and a gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Games. She missed out on a second chance at Olympic gold because President Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games in protest of the Soviet Union’s military presence in Afghanistan.
In addition to being elected into several Halls of Fame, McMillan has served as a board member for USA Track & Field, the governing body for the sport in this country.