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Alice Coachman Biography

Winner At Wembley, Great Olympic Athlete, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information


American track and field athlete

Alice Coachman became the first black woman of any nationality to win a gold medal at the Olympics with her victory was in the high jump at the 1948 Summer Games in London. Coachman broke jump records at her high school and college, then became the U.S. national high jump champion before competing in the Olympics. She is also the first African-American woman selected for a U.S. Olympic team.

Coachman was born the middle child to a family of ten children in rural Georgia, near the town of Albany. Her parents were poor, and while she was in elementary school, Coachman had to work at picking cotton and other crops to help her family meet expenses.

Her athleticism was evident, but her father would whip her when he caught her practicing basketball or running. "Back then," she told William C. Rhoden of the New York Times in 1995, "there was the sense that women weren't supposed to be running like that. My father wanted his girls to be dainty, sitting on the front porch."

Coachman, however, continued to practice in secret. Unable to train at public facilities because of segregation laws and unable to afford shoes, Coachman ran barefoot on the dirt roads near her house, practicing jumps over a crossbar made of rags tied together.

When Coachman was in the seventh grade, she appeared at the U.S. track championships, and Tuskegee Institute Cleveland Abbot noticed her. Abbot convinced Coachman's parents to nurture her rare talent. Reluctantly at first, her parents allowed her to compete in the Tuskegee Institute relay in the 1930s, where she broke first high school, and then collegiate records by the time she was 16 years old. She went on to win the national championships in the high jump, and 50 and 100 meter races as well.

Alice Coachman

Coachman also sang with the school choir, and played in several other sports just for fun, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and tennis. She also swam to stay in shape.

Coachman's biggest ambition was to compete in the Olympic games in 1940, when she said, many years later, she was at her peak. But World War II forced the cancellation of those games and those of 1944. The war ended in 1945, clearing the way for the 1948 Summer Games in London. In 1946, Coachman became the first black women selected for a U.S. Olympic team, in the first Olympiad since the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany.

Sketch by Michael Belfiore

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTrack and Field