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Wilma Rudolph

Not Just Walking, But Running

When Rudolph was eleven, her family's persistence with her physical therapy, her long training without the brace, and her determination paid off: she took off the brace and was able to walk normally without it. She progressed rapidly from then on, and not only walked, but outran her peers. According to a writer in Great Women in Sports, Rudolph told a Chicago Tribune writer, "By the time I was twelve, I was challenging every boy in our neighborhood at running, jumping, everything."

In seventh grade, Rudolph entered Burt High School, a new school for African American children. Everything in their community revolved around the school, and Rudolph begged her high school coach to play basketball. She was allowed to play only because the coach wanted her older sister to play. The following year, Rudolph's basketball coach, Clinton Gray, decided to invite girls who were on the basketball team to join the track team. Rudolph joined, although she continued to play basketball until the ninth grade. In her first season, at the age of thirteen, she ran five different events—the 50-meter, 75-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter, and the 4 X 100 relay. In twenty different races, she won every event.


1940 Born in Bethlehem, Tennessee
1944 Contracts polio, which leaves her left leg weakened
1945 Fitted with a steel brace on her left leg
1947 Enters Cobb Elementary School in Clarksville, Tennessee
1951 After years of secretly practicing walking without it, Rudolph is able to walk without the brace
1953 Joins the track and field team and basketball teams at Burt High School
1954 Meets coach Ed Temple when her team plays in the East Tennessee Conference Championship
1956 Wins bronze medal in the 4 X 100-meter relay at the Melbourne Olympics
1958 Enters Tennessee State University
1960 Sets a world record in the 200-meter race at the Olympic Trials
1960 Becomes first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics when she wins the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 4 X 100-meter relay at the Olympic Games in Rome
1963 Retires from competition at the peak of her career, and becomes a second-grade teacher at Cobb Elementary School
1967-93 Works with young people in the Job Corps; serves as a consultant to university track teams; is widely honored for her accomplishments
1977 Publishes her autobiography, titled Wilma
1994 Dies of brain cancer on November 12, in Nashville, Tennessee

Awards and Accomplishments

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 × 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"

In her sophomore year on the basketball team, Rudolph scored 803 points in 25 games, then a state record in girls' basketball, and her team made it to competition

Wilma Rudolph

in the Middle East Tennessee Conference championship. Although they lost in the second game of the playoffs, the championship was a pivotal event in Rudolph's life because one of the referees was also a track coach at Tennessee State University. This coach, Ed Temple, noticed Rudolph's running ability and told her that she had the talent to become a great runner. He encouraged her to attend his university when she finished high school.

In that same year, Rudolph attended her first big track meet, held at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Girls from all over the South traveled there to compete, and in this wider field of competition, Rudolph did not win a single race. The losses were devastating to her, but in the long run, made her realize that her innate talent was not enough: she also had to work to improve her training and ability. She became determined to go to the meet again the following year and beat everyone there.

The next summer, Rudolph attended a track camp run by Ed Temple, where the girls ran long cross-country distances every day in order to build up their endurance. At the end of the summer, Temple's team went to the National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meet in Philadelphia. Rudolph entered nine races and won all of them. At the meet, she met and was photographed with baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Don Newcomb. Rudolph looked up to Robinson as her first African-American hero.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldWilma Rudolph Biography - Early Obstacles, Not Just Walking, But Running, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Wins Bronze At Melbourne Olympics - SELECTED WRITINGS BY RUDOLPH: