100 in 100: Haywood County’s Joel Shankle, Olympic bronze medalist

The Duke track star's relationship with NC Central's Lee Calhoun was celebrated

Fines Creek's Joel Shankle finished third in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, completing a U.S. sweep with winner Lee Calhoun and second-place Jack Davis. (AP Photo)

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.

Haywood County

Joel Shankle

Known as the “one-man track team” because of his talent and versatility as a hurdler, long jumper and decathlete, Shankle was the ACC’s first Athlete of the Year in 1954. He earned the honor after winning four individual events for Duke at the conference championship meet. He also won the NCAA championship in the long jump a year later while also finishing third in the 110-meter hurdles before being selected to represent the United States in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.


A native of the tiny Haywood County community of Fines Creek, Shankle went on to win a bronze medal in the 110-meter high hurdles. His most significant Olympic contribution, however, may have been the social impact of his relationship with the gold medal winner in his event — fellow American Lee Calhoun.

Although Calhoun also attended college in Durham — at NC Central — athletes from the neighboring schools rarely fraternized with one another. But that didn’t stop Shankle and Calhoun from befriending one another and training together every evening on Duke’s track. Upon their triumphant return from Australia, both men were honored with a parade down Main Street, led by bands from both of their schools.

“Here in Durham they trained together and became fellow athletes and close friends,” Mayor E.J. Evans said that day in awarding Shankle and Calhoun keys to the city. “This is the peak of experience that few athletes can achieve.”

Shankle continued to achieve great things and go fast after he graduated from Duke, first as a naval aviator, then for 28 years as a pilot for American Airlines.