Born in Louisiana in 1957, Evelyn Ashford became a star sprinter at UCLA and competed in the 1976 Summer Olympics. At the 1984 Summer Games, she won gold medals in the 100-meter dash and the 400-meter relay, and shortly afterward she established the world record in the 100. Following the birth of her daughter, Ashford made a successful return to Olympic competition as part of the U.S. gold medal-winning 400-meter relay teams in 1988 and 1992, the latter making her the oldest American woman to win Olympic gold in track.
Young Track Star
Born on April 15, 1957, in Shreveport, Louisiana, Evelyn Ashford became a champion sprinter who won five Olympic medals during her athletic career. She was inspired to become a runner in her early teens. As Ashford explained to The New York Times, "I was 12 when I first heard about Wilma Rudolph and since I knew I could run I wanted to be like her."
Ashford attended Roseville High School in California, where she competed on the boys track team. She accepted a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she began working with coach Pat Connolly. Following her freshman year, Ashford made her Olympic debut at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, placing fifth in the 100-meter dash.
World Champion and 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist
Before long, Evelyn Ashford had emerged as one of the world's greatest sprinters. She won both the collegiate and national titles in the 100- and 200-meter events in 1977, and repeated as the national 200-meter champ in 1978. After leaving school to concentrate on training full time, she came in first in both the 100 and 200 at the 1979 World Cup.
Her sights set on a return to the Olympics, Ashford was devastated by the United States' boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. She continued to thrive at the sport's biggest events, winning the 100 and 200 at the 1981 World Cup, and setting a world record in the 100 with a time of 10.79 in 1983.
With the 1984 Summer Games held on her home turf of Los Angeles, Ashford finally got another chance to shine on the Olympic stage. She captured a long-awaited gold medal with her Olympic-record time of 10.97 in the 100, and added a second gold as part of the 400-meter relay team. Shortly after the Olympics, she broke her own world record by running the 100 in 10.76 seconds during a competition in Zurich, Switzerland.
Return to the Podium
Ashford went through some changes following the 1984 Games—both personally and professionally. During this period, she parted with longtime coach Pat Connolly and welcomed a daughter, Raina Ashley, with husband Ray Washington. Previously known for her single-minded focus on competing, she became a more open public figure, even trying her hand as a reporter for the cable TV show World Class Women.
Still, Ashford felt the urge to return to the track. Regaining her championship form against younger competition proved a challenge, but she won gold in the 100 meters at the 1986 Goodwill Games. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Ashford finished second in the 100 behind the newest American sprinting sensation, Florence Griffith-Joyner. She then teamed with Joyner to win gold in the 400-meter relay.
Bucking the odds, the 35-year-old Ashford made the U.S. Olympic track team one final time for the 1992 Barcelona Games, and that summer she became the oldest American woman to win a gold medal in track for her performance with the 400-meter relay group. She retired from competition in 1993.
Ashford has been honored numerous times over the years for her many contributions to her sport. She was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and joined other distinguished athletes in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2005.
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