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Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1914–1956) was named "Woman Athlete of the Half Century" in 1950 for her skills in basketball, track & field and golf.
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Mildred Didrikson Zaharias was born June 26, 1911, and earned her nickname "Babe" by hitting five homeruns in one childhood baseball game. At the 1932 Olympics, she won medals in the hurdles, javelin throw and high jump. By the 1940s, she was the greatest woman golfer of all time. The Associated Press declared Babe Zaharias to be the "Woman Athlete of the Half Century" in 1950.
"My main idea in any kind of competition always has been to go out there and cut loose with everything I've got. I've never been afraid to go up against anything. I've always had the confidence that I was capable of winning out."
Athlete and Olympic champion Babe Didrikson Zaharias was born Mildred Ella Zaharias on June 26, 1911, in Port Arthur, Texas, the daughter of Ole Didrikson and Hannah Marie Olsen. Her father and mother were from Norway, where her mother had been an outstanding skier and skater. Her father was a ship's carpenter and cabinetmaker. The family, who spelled their name Didriksen, moved to Beaumont, Texas, when Mildred was 3.
Times were often difficult for the large Didrikson family, and as an adolescent Mildred worked at many part-time jobs, including sewing gunny sacks at a penny a sack. Her father, a firm believer in physical conditioning, built a weight-lifting apparatus out of a broomstick and some old flatirons. Mildred, called "Baby" in her early years, was always competitive, interested in sports, and eager to play boys' games with her brothers. After hitting five home runs in one baseball game, "Baby" became "Babe" (Babe Ruth was then in his heyday), a nickname that remained with her for the rest of her life.
At the age of 15, Babe was the high-scoring forward on the girls' basketball team at Beaumont Senior High School. She attracted the attention of Melvin J. McCombs, coach of one of the best girls' basketball teams in the nation. In February 1930, McCombs secured a job for her with the Employers Casualty Company of Dallas, and she was soon a star player on its Golden Cyclones. She returned to Beaumont in June to graduate with her high school class. The Golden Cyclones won the national championship the next three years, and she was All-American forward for two of those years.
Didrikson soon turned her attention to track and field. At the National Women's AAU Track Meet in 1931, she won first place in eight events and was second in a ninth. In 1932, with much more interest in the meet because of the approaching Olympics, she captured the championship, scoring 30 points; the Illinois Women's Athletic Club, which entered a team of 22 women, placed second with 22 points. Babe then went to the Olympics.
Women were allowed to enter only three events, but she broke four world records; she won the javelin throw, with 143 feet, 4 inches, and won the 80-meter hurdles, twice breaking the previous world record (her best time was 11.7 seconds). She made a world record high jump, but the jump was disallowed and she was awarded second place.
The noted sports writer Paul Gallico remarked, "On every count, accomplishment, temperament, personality, and color, she belongs to the ranks of those story-book champions of our age of innocence." Gallico also referred to her as "the most talented athlete, male or female, ever developed in our country."
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