A Coach's Influence
A consistent presence in Tyus's life from high school through college and for the 1964 Olympics was Ed Temple. Tyus told Mary Reese Boykin of the Los Angeles Times, "Coach Ed Temple came into my life after my father died. A man of integrity, Coach Temple had many sayings to encourage us during the rough times." He expected a lot from his team. He taught Tyus the value of an education and expected her and each of his athletes to graduate from college. He also knew that the public did not readily accept women athletes and encouraged Tyus and her teammates to always be "ladies first." Speaking almost twenty years after Tyus's Olympic win, Temple said to Bert Rosenthal of the Associated Press, commenting on the women he coached, "The most famous one was Wilma [Rudolph].… But maybe the best was Tyus."
Wyomia Tyus's reign as one of the world's fastest female runners may have had a different outcome if she'd come along twenty years later. She competed during a time when the public had difficulty accepting the athleticism of female athletes. She overcame the impediments of a college sports program that favored men. She even proved that twenty-three was not too old to compete successfully in world-class events.
There is no doubt that she set a high standard for herself and overcame many obstacles. That's not uncommon for Olympic-level athletes. What is exceptional about Tyus is that despite being overlooked by history and despite never having made any money from her track career, she made the most of what track had to offer. Most extraordinary of all she did it with a smile and with humble recognition of her own talents. She explained to Boykin, "I wasn't paid a dime for my track career. But participating in the Olympics gave me the opportunity to learn about different cultures; it made me a better person. I wouldn't trade the time I competed for anything." She is able to look back on her career and recognize the gifts of the people around her that helped her succeed. When she spoke to a group of high school students, Tyus told them, as reported by Ann Japenga of the Los Angeles Times, "You can be the best in the world and not be recognized.… A lot of it has to do with breaks. If a coach at Tennessee State hadn't given me a break at 14, I never would have been in the Olympic Games."