Track and Field Athlete
Wilma Rudolph was the first American female runner to win three gold medals in the Olympic Games. Her performance was all the more remarkable in light of the fact that she had double pneumonia and scarlet fever as a young child and could not walk without braces until age 11.
Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, the 17th of 19 children, and soon moved with her family to Clarksville. At an early age, she survived polio and scarlet fever, only to be left with the use of one leg. Through daily leg massages administered in turn by different members of her family, she progressed to the point where she was able walk only with the aid of a special shoe. Three years later, however, she discarded the shoe and began joining her brother in backyard basketball games. At Burt High School in Clarksville, while a sophomore, Rudolph broke the state basketball record for girls. As a sprinter, she was undefeated in all of her high school track meets.
In 1957, Rudolph enrolled at Tennessee State University and began setting her sights on the Olympic Games in Rome. In the interim, she gained national recognition in collegiate meets, setting the world record for 2000 meters in July of 1960. In the Olympics, she earned the title of the "World's Fastest Woman" by winning gold medals for the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash (Olympic record), and for anchoring the 400-meter relay (world record). She was named by The Associated Press as the U.S. Female Athlete of the Year for 1960 and also won United Press Athlete of the Year honors.
Rudolph served as a track coach, an athletic consultant, and assistant director of athletics for the Mayor's Youth Foundation in Chicago. She was also the founder of the Wilma Rudolph Foundation. Rudolph, a noted goodwill ambassador, was also a talk show hostess and active on the lecture circuit. On November 12, 1994, Wilma Rudolph died at her home in Brentwood, Tennessee of a malignant brain tumor.
1956, Bronze medal, 4 X 100-meter relay, Olympic Games, Melbourne, Australia; 1960, World record in the 200-meter race at the Olympic Trials at Texas Christian University; 1960, Gold medals, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, and 4 x 100-meter relay, Olympic Games, Rome, Italy; first American woman to win three Olympic gold medals; 1961, Received Sullivan Award and Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year Award; 1962, Received Babe Didrikson Zaharias Award; 1973, Inducted into Black Athletes Hall of Fame; 1974, Inducted into National Track and Field Hall of Fame; 1980, Inducted into Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame; 1983, Inducted into U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame; 1987, Received National Collegiate Athletic Association's Silver Anniversary Award; 1993, Honored as one of the National Sports Awards "Great Ones."