Olympic track star, EMU legend Paul McMullen dies in ski accident at 49

Detroit News staff and wires

Former U.S. Olympic track star Paul McMullen, a Cadillac native, died Thursday night in a skiing accident in northern Michigan, the Cadillac News reported Friday. Eastern Michigan confirmed his death. He was 49.

McMullen, who competed at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the 1,500 meters, also was an eight-time All-American in track and cross country at Eastern Michigan. He was inducted into EMU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Drake Relays Hall of Fame in 2000.

Paul McMullen in action during United States team trials in 1996.

McMullen, who lived in Grand Haven, was a three-time national champion in the 1,500 and won the 1996 Olympic trials at that distance, before reaching the Olympic semifinals in Atlanta. 

“He was always kind of an anomaly because he was 6-2 and change and probably 170 pounds,” said Tim Nichols, a former EMU runner. “Most of the guys he was competing with were 5-8, 120 pounds. He looked like a giant when he was on the track with a lot of guys he was running against.”

McMullen continued racing through another Olympic bid in 2004, winning his third national title in 1998 only a year after severing two toes in a lawn-mowing accident.

At Eastern Michigan, he set the indoor mile record (3:57.34) and the outdoor 1500m record (3:38.74), and both marks remain today.

McMullen remained active in the sport after his retirement as an avid marathoner and youth coach, founding the Chariots of Fire Running Club for kids ages 7-12 in west Michigan. 

His death came one day after his coach at Eastern Michigan, Bob Parks, died at 90.

"I am devastated to share the news that EMU Olympian Paul McMullen passed away yesterday from a skiing accident," Sue Parks, Bob Parks' daughter who is EMU's director of cross country and track, wrote on Twitter on Friday. "Paul visited my dad last Thursday and was like a son to him. He was such a great person — always upbeat and positive. Sending deepest condolences to his family."

McMullen is survived by wife Nuria, and three children.

Funeral arrangements were pending Friday.

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