Home News Olympic High Jumper ...

Olympic High Jumper Paula Girven Passes Away From Cancer At 62

By Todd Kortemeier | Nov. 09, 2020, 2:03 p.m. (ET)

The 1976 Women's athletics team poses for a photo in Montreal (left), Paula Girven smiles for her headshot (right). 

Paula Girven, a high jump Olympian and college national champion, passed away on Oct. 17 at the age of 62 after a battle with cancer, her family has confirmed.

In a memorial page, Girven’s daughter Jasmin Pittman Morrell paid tribute to her mother, “an amazing woman — tenacious, poised and elegant.

“My mother, Paula Girven, was a two-time Olympic high-jumper, qualifying for both the 1976 and 1980 teams,” Morrell said. “She still holds numerous records in her home state of Virginia, and she was the first African-American woman to receive an athletic scholarship to the University of Maryland.”

Girven was one of the best track athletes in Virginia state history, notably still holding the state record for girls’ high jump. She established an Olympic track legacy at Gar-Field High School, which went on to produce Olympic medalists in Benita Fitzgerald Mosley and Sheena Tosta. Girven went on to become an indoor and outdoor national champion at the University of Maryland, making the school’s athletic hall of fame in 1999.

It was soon after graduating from Gar-Field that she qualified for the Olympic Games Montreal 1976. As an 18-year-old, she automatically qualified with a personal best of 1.86 meters at the trials in Eugene, Oregon. In Montreal, Girven placed 18th. She qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team as well but didn’t get to compete as a result of the international Olympic boycott. Girven retired from competition in 1981, later becoming a personal trainer. 

Todd Kortemeier

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.