Wilma Rudolph biography
Born premature on June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph was a sickly child who had to wear a brace on her left leg. She overcame her disabilities through physical therapy and hard work, and went on to become a gifted runner. Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympics in 1960, at the Summer Games in Rome, and later worked as a teacher and track coach. She died in Tennessee in 1994.
Wilma Glodean Rudolph was born premature and sickly on June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, the 20th of 22 children to parents Ed and Blanche Rudolph, and went on to become an African-American pioneer of track and field. But the road to victory was not an easy one for Wilma Rudolph. Stricken with polio as a child, she had problems with her left leg and had to wear a brace. It was with great determination and the help of physical therapy that she was able to overcome the disease as well as her resulting physical disabilities.
Growing up in the South before segregation was outlawed, Rudolph attended an all-black school, Burt High School, where she played on the basketball team. A naturally gifted runner, she was soon recruited to train with Tennessee State University track coach Ed Temple.
Pioneering Olympic Medalist
While still in high school, Wilma Rudolph, nicknamed "Skeeter" for her famous speed, qualified for the 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. The youngest member of the U.S. team at the age of 16, she won a bronze medal in the sprint relay event. After finishing high school, Rudolph enrolled at Tennessee State University, where she studied education. She also trained hard for the next Olympics.
Held in Rome, Italy, the 1960 Olympic Games were a golden time for Rudolph. After setting a world record of 11.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash in the semifinals, she won the 100 in the final round with a time of 11.0. Similarly, she broke the Olympic record in the 200-meter dash (23.2 seconds) in the semifinals before winning the 200 (24 seconds) in the final. She was also part of the U.S. team that beat the world record in the 4-by-100-meter relay (44.4 seconds) in the Olympic semifinals before winning the relay in the final in 44.5 seconds. Most notably, Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games. The first-class sprinter instantly became one of the most popular athletes of the Rome Games as well as an international superstar, lauded around the world for her groundbreaking achievements.
Following the Games, Rudolph made numerous appearances on television and received several honors, including the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year Award, which she received twice, in both 1960 and 1961. She retired from competition not long after, becoming a teacher and a track coach, but her accomplishments on the Olympic track remained her best known: Throughout the '60s, Rudolph was widely considered to be the world's fastest woman.
Death and Legacy
Rudolph shared her remarkable story with the world in 1977 with her autobiography, Wilma.
Her book was later turned into a TV film. In the 1980s, she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and established the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to promote amateur athletics. Wilma Rudolph died on November 12, 1994, near Nashville, Tennessee, losing a battle with brain cancer.
Rudolph is remembered as one of the fastest women in track and as a source of great inspiration for generations of African-American athletes. She once stated, "Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday." In 2004, the United States Postal Service honored the Olympic champion by featuring her likeness on a 23-cent stamp.