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Rudolph, Wilma

Wilma Rudolph

1940-1994

American track and field athlete

Wilma Rudolph made Olympic history in 1960 when she became the first American woman ever to win three gold medals in track and field events. Her achievement would have been remarkable for any athlete, but it was even more impressive because Rudolph had spent her childhood in leg braces and special shoes; doctors had told her family that she would never walk normally.

Early Obstacles

Wilma Glodean Rudolph was born June 23, 1940, in Bethlehem, Tennessee, to a poor and very large family. Her father, Ed Rudolph, had eleven children by an earlier marriage, and had eight more with Wilma's mother, Blanche Rudolph. Wilma was the fifth of this second set of children. When she was born, she weighed only four and a half pounds.

During Rudolph's infancy, the family moved to a house on Kellogg Street in Clarksville, Tennessee, where her father worked as a railroad porter and did odd jobs, and her mother worked six days a week as a maid in the homes of wealthy white families in Clarksville.

When Rudolph was four years old, she contracted polio, for which there was no immunization or curative treatment. The illness weakened her, and she also suffered through double pneumonia and scarlet fever, which almost killed her. Although she survived, her left leg remained paralyzed from the polio. Her parents took her to a specialist at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, who told them that in order for Rudolph's leg to regain strength, they would have to do therapeutic massage. For the next two years, Wilma and

her mother visited Meharry each week for heat and water therapy. Every other day of the week, Rudolph's mother, with three of her older siblings, took turns massaging the crippled limb at least four times a day.

During her weekly trips to Nashville, Rudolph saw the deep segregation of races that existed at that time in the South. Traveling on a Greyhound bus, she noted that the African-American passengers had to sit in the back, and that there were separate ticket windows, waiting areas, and restrooms for African Americans. In addition, if white passengers did not have seats, African Americans were expected to give up their seats and stand in the aisle for the duration of the trip.

When Rudolph was five years old, her doctors fitted her with a steel brace on her left leg. She was supposed to wear the brace from the moment she got up until she went to bed at night. She hated the brace, because it was a visible sign that she had a physical problem, and she wanted to be like everyone else. When her parents were not around, Rudolph often took off the brace and tried to walk without a limp. In her autobiography, Wilma, she wrote that even as a child she was aware that, "From that day on [when she walked normally], people were going to start separating me from that brace, start thinking about me differently, start saying that Wilma is a healthy kid, just like the rest of them." This knowledge, and the desire to walk like everyone else, became a driving force in her life.

In 1947, at the age of seven, Rudolph entered Cobb Elementary School in Clarksville. Her poor health had forced her to miss kindergarten and first grade, so she entered at the second-grade level. The school, which enrolled only African-American students, included all grades from elementary through high school, and its facilities, curriculum, and materials were inferior to those of local white schools. However, Rudolph loved school, and found that it changed her life. From being a sickly, often-teased child, she became accepted by other children. "I needed to belong, and I finally did," she wrote in Wilma.

At Cobb Elementary, the students were taught some African-American history, with an emphasis on African American achievements, but did not discuss prejudice or oppression. Rudolph wrote, "The object of it was to give us black kids somebody to be proud of, not to tell us we were still oppressed."

Interestingly, Rudolph had red, sandy hair and light skin, and in her autobiography, she wrote that next to some of her darker-skinned brothers and sisters, she "felt like an albino." Her awareness of her appearance, coupled with her growing awareness in the disparities in American culture's treatment of African Americans and whites, made her believe as a child that "all white people were mean and evil." As she grew up, her anger about society's treatment of African Americans would be tempered by her Christian religious beliefs, which taught tolerance and forgiveness.

Rudolph's teacher, Mrs. Allison, was a kind, generous woman who boosted Rudolph's self-esteem and confidence. A later teacher, Mrs. Hoskins, who taught fourth grade, was a martinet who once spanked Rudolph and who was known, Rudolph wrote, as the "meanest, toughest teacher in the whole school." However, Rudolph came to respect her because she "had no pets in class, no favorites, and treated everybody equally." Hoskins taught Rudolph to go out and work to achieve her goals, rather than simply daydreaming about them. This attitude would later fuel Rudolph as she worked on her athletic training.

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 eventsthe 50-meter, 75-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter, and the 4 X 100 relay. In twenty different races, she won every event.

Chronology

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

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.

Wins Bronze at Melbourne Olympics

Although Rudolph had never even heard of the Olympics until high school, she attended the Olympic trials in Seattle and qualified for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia at the age of sixteen, as a high school junior. The youngest member of the American team, she was excited to go on her first airplane flight. At Melbourne, she was eliminated from the 200-meter event and did not make the final race, but she ran the third leg of the 4 × 100-meter relay and won a bronze medal.

According to Great Women in Sports, she told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, "I remember going back to my high school this particular day with the bronze medal and all the kids that I disliked so much or thought I disliked put up this big huge banner: 'Welcome Home Wilma.'" And I forgave them right then and there They passed my bronze medal around so that everybody could touch, feel and see what an Olympic medal is like. When I got it back, there were handprints all over it. I took it and I started shining it up. I discovered that bronze doesn't shine. So, I decided, I'm going to try this one more time. I'm going to go for the gold."

During her senior year of high school, Rudolph underwent a routine physical and found out that she was pregnant. Her parents and coach supported her, and she finished high school and kept up with her training as much as she could. A month after graduating, she gave birth to a daughter, Yolanda. Her parents, who wanted her to attend college, took care of the baby until she was able to do so.

In 1958, Rudolph entered college at Tennessee State University, majoring in elementary school education and psychology. Surprisingly, she did not have an athletic scholarship, although she did work two hours a day, five days a week, as part of the school's work assistance program. Another little-known facet of her college career was that when she was not on the track, she never hurried anywhere, and was often late for class.

Wins Gold in 1960 Olympics

In 1960, Rudolph went to Corpus Christi, Texas, for the National AAU meet. The winners of the meet were invited to the Olympic Trials, held two weeks later at Texas Christian University. At the trials, she set a world record in the 200 meter race that would stand for the next eight years, and qualified for the Olympic team in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4 × 100 relay.

At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, she went for the gold, and won itthree times, becoming the first American woman ever to accomplish this feat. In the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash, she finished at least three yards in front of her closest competitor. In the 100-meter dash, she tied the world record, and she set a new Olympic record in the 200. As a member of the 4 × 100-meter relay team, she brought the team from behind to first place. A reporter for Time magazine wrote, "Running for gold medal glory, Miss Rudolph regularly got away to good starts with her arms pumping in classic style, then smoothly shifted gears to a flowing stride that made the rest of the pack seem to be churning on a treadmill." Her wins were even more amazing because on the day before the 100-meter semifinal event, she stepped in a hole and twisted her ankle. It swelled and became painful, but Rudolph ran anyway, and won all of her events.

Personally, Rudolph was thrilled by her gold medals because she had repeated the achievement of another of her heroes, famed African American athlete Jesse Owens , who won three gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Germany, in front of notoriously racist Nazi officials.

After the Olympics, Temple took Rudolph and the other members of the team to the British Empire Games in London. Rudolph won every event she ran in. The team continued to travel throughout Europe, and Rudolph kept winning.

Her achievements brought her instant fame, and crowds gathered wherever she ran. President John F. Kennedy invited her to the White House, she received ticker tape parades, and she was invited to dinners, awards, and television appearances. Her homecoming parade in Clarksville was attended by over 40,000 people, and was the first racially integrated event in the history of the townat her insistence, since she refused to participate in the segregated event that the white town officials originally proposed. In 1961, she was given the Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States, and won the Associated Press's Female Athlete of the Year Award. She also became the first woman to be invited to compete in some of track's most prestigious events, including the New York Athletic Club Meet, the Millrose Games, the Los Angeles Times Games, the Penn Relays, and the Drake Relays. Rudolph also traveled with evangelist Billy Graham on a trip to French West Africa and with the Baptist Christian Athletes on a trip to Japan.

"You Can't Go Back to Living the Way You Did Before"

Despite all the awards and praise, Rudolph received little or no money for her success, and though she had to work for a living, she found it hard to fit back into her old life. According to Great Women in Sports, she told a reporter for Ebony, "You become world famous and you sit with kings and queens, and then your first job is just a job. You can't go back to living the way you did before because you've been taken out of one setting and shown the other. That becomes a struggle and makes you struggle."

Related Biography: Coach Ed Temple

Edward Stanley Temple, who served as head women's track coach at Tennessee State University from 1953 to 1994, led over forty athletes to Olympic competition, bringing home a total of twenty-three Olympic medals (thirteen gold, six silver, and four bronze). His teams also won thirty-four national team titles and thirty Pan-American Games medals. As a women's coach, Temple laid a foundation for growth in women's athletics, a boom that continues to this day.

Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1927, Temple manifested an early interest in sports. An All-State athlete in track and field, football, and basketball at John Harris High School, he became the school's first African-American captain of both the track and field and basketball teams.

Temple attended Tennessee State University. A sprinter, Temple ran 9.7 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 21.5 in the 220-meter dash while at the school. After obtaining a bachelor's degree, Temple continued to study, eventually earning a master's in health and physical education. While he was still studying, in 1953, he was offered a position as assistant Women's Track and Field Coach, and later that year, became head coach. He called the women's team the "Tigerbelles," a name that would soon become famous in national and international track circles.

Temple's team members included many women who later became well-known in track and field; Wilma Rudolph was the most notable. The team competed throughout Europe and North America, and was so successful that Temple was chosen as head coach for the Women's Track team for the Olympics in 1960 and 1964.

Temple retired from Tennessee State University in May, 1994. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Helms Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, the Black Athletes Hall of Fame, and the Ohio Valley Conference Hall of Fame.

Although Rudolph could have competed in the 1964 Olympics, she decided not to. She was not sure she could win gold medals again, and didn't want to look like a fading athlete in the eyes of the public. She retired from competition in 1963, the same year she graduated from Tennessee State University, and became a secondgrade teacher and girls' track coach at her childhood school, Cobb Elementary in Clarksville, where she was paid $200 a month. She also married her high school sweetheart, Robert Eldridge, but was later divorced from him and raised her four childrentwo daughters, Yolanda and Djuana, and two sons, Robert, Jr. and Xurryon her own. She lived in Evansville, Indiana, where she was a coach at DePauw University, and later moved to Boston, where she worked for the Job Corps program in Poland Springs, Maine.

In 1967, Rudolph was invited by Vice President Hubert Humphrey to work on a program called "Operation Champion." This program took well-known athletes into poor inner-city areas, where they trained young people in sports. When this project was complete, the Job Corps transferred Rudolph to St. Louis; after that, she went to Detroit, where she taught at Palham Junior High School. In 1977 she spent time in Clarksville, Tennessee, before going back to Detroit.

Rudolph's autobiography, Wilma, was published in 1977. In that same year, the NBC network produced a television film titled Wilma, starring Cicely Tyson as Rudolph. In 1991, Rudolph served as ambassador to the European celebration that marked the fall of the Berlin Wall. Rudolph also founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting amateur athletics.

Rudolph has been inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Helms Hall of Fame, the Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, and the Black Athletes Hall of Fame. A street in Clarksville, Tennessee, is named in her honor. In 1987, she was the first woman to receive the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Silver Anniversary Award. In 1993, she was honored as one of "The Great Ones" at the first National Sports Awards.

A year later, on November 12, 1994, Rudolph died of brain cancer in Nashville, Tennessee. She was buried with the Olympic flag draped over her casket.

Rudolph's achievements as an athlete were remarkable for many reasons. She was a woman and an African American in a time when fewer opportunities existed for both groups, and she also overcame serious childhood illness and disability to not only walk normally, but win gold medals in national and Olympic competition. In the Kansas City Star, Claude Lewis summed up Rudolph as "an athletic queen who mesmerized the international sporting world through personal achievement, physical heroics, and a stunning elegance that dwarfed her impoverished beginnings." A writer in Contemporary Heroes and Heroines quoted Rudolph's hero, Jesse Owens, who wrote, "Wilma Rudolph's courage and her triumph over her physical handicaps are among the most inspiring jewels in the crown of Olympic sports. She wasspeed and motion incarnate, the most beautiful image ever seen on the track."

SELECTED WRITINGS BY RUDOLPH:

Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph, New American Library, 1977.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Biracree, Tom. Wilma Rudolph. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1988.

Great Women in Sports, Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.

Jackson, Linda. Wilma Rudolph, Eric Corp., 1975.

Lewis, Dwight, and Susan Thomas. A Will to Win, Cumberland Press, 1983.

Newsmakers 1995, Issue 4, Detroit: Gale, 1995.

Notable Black American Women, Book 1, Detroit: Gale, 1992.

Rudolph, Wilma. Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph, New York: New American Library, 1977.

Straub, Deborah Gillian, editor. Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Detroit: Gale, 1992.

Periodicals

"Ahead of Their Time," Runner's World, (June, 1993): 50.

"Fast Train from Clarksville [Obituary]," Sports Illustrated, (November 21, 1994): 13.

Heller, Dick. "Rudolph Had Bumpy Path to Greatness as Olympic Sprinter," Washington Times, (September 25, 2000): 16.

Lewis, Claude. "Wilma Rudolph [Obituary]," Kansas City Star, (November 22, 1994).

"Olympic Gold Medal Runner Wilma Rudolph, 54, Succumbs [Obituary]," Jet, (November 28, 1994): 58.

Reed, Susan, "Born to Win: Speed Was of the Essence for Wilma Rudolph, Who Beat Polio to Win Three Olympic Gold Medals [Obituary]," People (November 28, 1994): 62.

Other

"A Lifetime of Achievement: Edward Stanley Temple," Tennessee State University Web Site, http://www.tnstate.edu/library/temple/templebio.html (September 30, 2002).

Percentie, Chanella. "Edward Stanley Temple1927," NCT American Collection, http://www.nctamericancollection.org/litmap/temple_Edward_tn.htm (September 30, 2002).

Roberts, M.B. "Rudolph Ran and World Went Wild," ESPN.com, http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016444.html (September 24, 2002).

Sketch by Kelly Winters

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Winters, Kelly. "Rudolph, Wilma." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 28 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Winters, Kelly. "Rudolph, Wilma." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900479.html

Winters, Kelly. "Rudolph, Wilma." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900479.html

Rudolph, Wilma 1940–

Wilma Rudolph 1940

Olympic athlete, track and field coach

At a Glance

Staged a Comeback from Physical Disability

The Price of Fame

Talent Didnt Go to Waste

Sources

Wilma Rudolph made history in the 1960 Summer Olympic games in Rome, Italy, when she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the track and field competition. Rudolphs brilliant accomplishments were all the more remarkable because she came from modest circumstances and endured a childhood of sickness and disability. The sprightly Rudolph is still busy today coaching underprivileged children and encouraging minority interest in amateur athletics. Its a good feeling to know that you have touched the lives of so many young people, the mother of four told the Chicago Tribune. I tell them that the most important aspect is to be yourself and have confidence in yourself.

Rudolphs confidence may have flagged at times in her childhood, when it seemed she might spend a lifetime in leg braces or even a wheelchair. Through the efforts of her devoted familyand then her own steely determination to strengthen herselfshe rose from disability to Olympic glory. Her victories in Rome in 1960 helped to set the stage for a life dedicated to the principles and practices that helped her to succeed. Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle, she told the Chicago Tribune. The triumph cant be had without the struggle. And I know what struggle is. I have spent a lifetime trying to share what it has meant to be a woman first in the world of sports so that other young women have a chance to reach their dreams.

Almost every circumstance was stacked against Rudolph from the day she was born. Her family was very large indeed. Ed Rudolph had eleven children by a first marriage. His second marriage yielded eight more, of which Wilma was the fifth. At birth she weighed only four and one-half pounds. Her mother, Blanche, a domestic, feared for Wilmas survival from the outset. The family lived in tiny St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, a farming community about 45 miles southeast of Nashville.

Shortly after Wilma was born, the Rudolphs moved to nearby Clarksville, Tennessee, where they lived in town. Her father worked as a porter on railroad cars, and her mother cleaned house six days a week. Older siblings helped care for the sickly baby who had come into the world prematurely.

At the age of four, Wilma contracted polio. The disease weakened her and made her vulnerable to pneumonia and scarlet fever. She survived the illnesses, but she lost the use

At a Glance

Born Wilma Glodean Rudolph, June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, TN; daughter of Ed (a railroad porter) and Blanche (a domestic) Rudolph; married William Ward (a runner), 1961 (divorced); married Robert Eldridge (divorced); children: four. Education: Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University (now Tennessee State University), B.A., c. 1963.

Amateur athlete, 1956-63; competed in track and field events at the Summer Olympic Games, 1956 and 1960; teacher, track coach, and consultant to civic and university athletic programs, 1963. Founder of Wilma Rudolph Foundation, a nonprofit organization for amateur athletics in Indianapolis, IN. Has made numerous lecture tours and good-will appearances. Author of autobiography Wilma, 1977.

Selected awards: Bronze medal, 1956 Olympics; gold medals in 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, and 400-meter relay, all during 1960 Olympics; James E. Sullivan Memorial Trophy, 1961; member of U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and National Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Addresses: c/o National Track and Field Hall of Fame, 1 Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis, IN 46225.

of her left leg. Specialists in Nashville recommended a routine of massage for the limb, and Mrs. Rudolph learned it and taught it to some of the older children. Thus, Wilmas legs were massaged a number of times each day, helping her to regain strength. Medical history aside, she was à normal child. When I was about 5, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get my [leg] braces off, she told the Chicago Tribune. And you see, when you come from a large wonderful family, theres always a way to achieve your goals, especially when you dont want your parents knowing them. I would take off my braces, then station my brothers and sisters all through the house and they would tell me if my parents were coming and then Id hurry and put the braces back on.

Once a weekon her day offBlanche Rudolph would drive her daughter 45 miles to Nashville for physical therapy. The long drive provided Wilma with chances to daydream about her future, but the outlook was grim. I would visualize myself in this gigantic white house on the hill and being married and having children, she said in the Chicago Tribune. But as I began to understand life, those dreams vanished very quickly.

Staged a Comeback from Physical Disability

After five years of treatment, Wilma one day stunned her doctors when she removed her leg braces and walked by herself. She had been practicingwith the help of her siblingsfor quite some time. Soon she was able to walk even better with the help of a supportive shoe. This she wore until she was eleven. After that, she not only left braces and orthopedic shoes behind, she confounded every prediction that she would be a disabled adult. Soon she was joining her brothers and sisters in basketball games in the Rudolph backyard and running street races against other children her age. By the time I was 12, she told the Chicago Tribune, I was challenging every boy in our neighborhood at running, jumping, everything.

Rudolph desperately wanted to play high school basketball, but she simply could not convince the coach to put her on the team. When she finally worked up the nerve to ask him for a tryout, he agreed to coach her privately for ten minutes each morning. Still she was cut in her freshman year. She finally earned a position on the roster at Burt High School in Clarksville because the coach wanted her older sister to play. Her father agreed to allow the sibling onto the team only if Wilma could be on it too.

Rudolph soon blossomed into fine basketball player. As a sophomore she scored 803 points in 25 games, a new state record for a player on a girls basketball team. She also started running in track meets and found that her greatest strengths lay in the sprint. She was only fourteen when she attracted the attention of Ed Temple, the womens track coach at Tennessee State University. Temple told her she had the potential to become a great runner, and during the summer recesses from high school she trained with him and the students at Tennessee State.

The Olympic Games were a far-off dream to a young black woman in Tennessee. She was a teenager before she even learned what the Olympics were. Rudolph caught on fast, though. In four seasons of high school track meets, she never lost a race. At the tender age of sixteen, she qualified for the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, and came home with a bronze medal. Rudolph told the Chicago Tribune: I remember going back to my high school this particular day with the bronze medal and all the kids that I disliked so much or I thought I disliked... put up this big huge banner: Welcome Home Wilma. And I forgave them right then and there... They passed my bronze medal around so that everybody could touch, feel and see what an Olympic medal is like. When I got it back, there were handprints all over it. I took it and I started shining it up. I discovered that bronze doesnt shine. So, I decided Im going to try this one more time. Im going to go for the gold.

Rudolph entered Tennessee State University in the fall of 1957, with a major in elementary education. All of her spare time was consumed by running, however. The pace took its toll, and she found herself too ill to run through most of the 1958 season. She rebounded in 1959, only to pull a muscle at a crucial meet between the United States and the Soviet Union in Philadelphia. Ed Temple supervised her recoverythe two are still friends todayand by 1960 Rudolph was ready to go to Rome.

Rudolph was not the first black woman to receive an Olympic gold medal: that distinction goes to Alice Coachman-Davis, who took first place in the high jump at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, England. A dozen years later at the 1960 Olympics, Rudolph won all three of her gold medals in very dramatic fashion. In both the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash, she finished at least three yards in front of her closest competitor. She tied the world record in the 100-meter and set a new Olympic record in the 200. Rudolph also brought her 400-meter relay team from behind to win the gold. The French called her La Gazelle. Without question, Rudolphs achievements at the 1960 Olympic Games remain a stand-out performance in the history of Olympic competition.

The Price of Fame

Wilma Rudolph became an instant celebrity in Europe and America. Mobs gathered wherever she was scheduled to run. She was given ticker tape parades, an official invitation to the White House by president John F. Kennedy, and a dizzying round of dinners, awards, and television appearances. Rudolph remembered in Ebony magazine that the royal treatment she received was rather shallowshe was treated like a star, but not given the money to live like one. Today, beautiful young women athletes can count on endorsements for commercial products and hefty fees for personal appearances. That was not so in Rudolphs era,

especially for a black athlete. She told Ebony: You become world famous and you sit with kings and queens, and then your first job is just a job. You cant go back to living the way you did before because youve been taken out of one setting and shown the other. That becomes a struggle and makes you struggle.

Rudolph made one decision that she stuck to firmly: she refused to participate in the 1964 Olympic games. She felt that she might not be able to duplicate her achievement of 1960, and she did not want to appear to be fading. She retired from amateur athletics in 1963, finished her college work, and became a school teacher and athletic coach. She also became a mother, raising four children on her own after divorcing two husbands.

Talent Didnt Go to Waste

For more than two decades, Wilma Rudolph has sought to impart the lessons she learned about amateur athletics to other young men and women. She is the author of an autobiography, Wilma, that was published in 1977and the subject of a television movie based on the book. She has lectured in every part of America and even served in 1991 as an ambassador to the European celebration of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Rudolph has helped to open and run inner city sports clinics and has served as a consultant to university track teams. She also founded her own organization, the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, dedicated to promoting amateur athletics.

I think the thing that made life good for me is that I never looked back, Rudolph told Ebony. Ive always been positive no matter what happened. Rudolph added that she has always believed in herself and her abilities, and that the phrase I cant never applied to her.

Rudolph is a member of the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Today she lives in Indianapolis but still travels frequently and is well known for her motivational speeches to youngsters. I love working with kids. Its the motherly instinct in me, she told Newsday. And in an interview with Ebony, Rudolph claimed that her moment of Olympic glory sort of sent my way all the other positive things and feelings that Ive had. That one accomplishmentwhat happened in 1960nobody can take from me. It was something I worked for. It wasnt something somebody handed to me.

Asked what she feels is her greatest achievement, Rudolph looked past 1960 to all the work she has done since. My thoughts about my life, my great moment, if I left the Earth today, would be knowing that I have tried to give something to young people, she commented in the Chicago Tribune. Hopefully, for the first time, Im beginning to see that young black women in America are making a large contribution in sports. The impression is that together we can make a first. And that makes me very happy.

Sources

Books

Rust, Edna, and Art Rust Jr., Art Rusts Illustrated History of the Black Athlete, Doubleday, 1985.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, January 8, 1989.

Ebony, February 1984; January 1992.

Jet, February 2, 1987.

Newsday, October 14, 1990.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), August 18, 1991.

Time, September 19, 1960.

Upscale, October/November 1992.

Mark Kram

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Kram, Mark. "Rudolph, Wilma 1940–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1993. Encyclopedia.com. 28 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Kram, Mark. "Rudolph, Wilma 1940–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1993. Encyclopedia.com. (May 28, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870600059.html

Kram, Mark. "Rudolph, Wilma 1940–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1993. Retrieved May 28, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2870600059.html

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) became the first American woman runner to win three gold medals in the Olympic games.

Wilma Rudolph made history in the 1960 Summer Olympic games in Rome, Italy, when she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the track and field competition. (At those same Olympic games, Rafer Johnson, winner of a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics and a gold medal at the 1959 Pan American Games for the decathlon, won a gold medal for the same event and was the first African American to carry the American flag during the opening ceremony.) Rudolph's brilliant accomplishments were all the more remarkable because she came from modest circumstances and endured a childhood of sickness and disability. Prior to her death on November 12, 1994, Rudolph was still busy coaching underprivileged children and encouraging minority interest in amateur athletics. "It's a good feeling to know that you have touched the lives of so many young people," the mother of four told the Chicago Tribune. "I tell them that the most important aspect is to be yourself and have confidence in yourself."

Rudolph's confidence may have flagged at times in her childhood, when it seemed she might spend a lifetime in leg braces or even a wheelchair. Through the efforts of her devoted family—and then her own steely determination to strengthen herself—she rose from disability to Olympic glory. Her victories in Rome in 1960 helped to set the stage for a life dedicated to the principles and practices that helped her to succeed. "Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle," she told the Chicago Tribune. "The triumph can't be had without the struggle. And I know what struggle is. I have spent a lifetime trying to share what it has meant to be a woman first in the world of sports so that other young women have a chance to reach their dreams."

Almost every circumstance was stacked against Rudolph from the day she was born on June 23, 1940. Her family was very large. Ed Rudolph had eleven children by a first marriage. His second marriage yielded eight more, of which Wilma was the fifth. At birth she weighed only four and one-half pounds. Her mother, Blanche, a domestic, feared for Wilma's survival from the outset. The family lived in tiny St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, a farming community about 45 miles southeast of Nashville.

Shortly after Wilma was born, the Rudolphs moved to nearby Clarksville, Tennessee, where they lived in town. Her father worked as a porter on railroad cars, and her mother cleaned house six days a week. Older siblings helped care for the sickly baby who had come into the world prematurely.

At the age of four, Wilma contracted polio. The disease weakened her and made her vulnerable to pneumonia and scarlet fever. She survived the illnesses, but she lost the use of her left leg. Specialists in Nashville recommended a routine of massage for the limb, and Mrs. Rudolph learned it and taught it to some of the older children. Thus, Wilma's legs were massaged a number of times each day, helping her to regain strength. Medical history aside, she was a normal child. "When I was about 5, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to get my [leg] braces off," she told the Chicago Tribune."And you see, when you come from a large wonderful family, there's always a way to achieve your goals, especially when you don't want your parents knowing them. I would take off my braces, then station my brothers and sisters all through the house and they would tell me if my parents were coming and then I'd hurry and put the braces back on."

Once a week—on her day off—Blanche Rudolph would drive her daughter 45 miles to Nashville for physical therapy. The long drive provided Wilma with chances to daydream about her future, but the outlook was grim. "I would visualize myself in this gigantic white house on the hill and being married and having children," she said in the Chicago Tribune. "But as I began to understand life, those dreams vanished very quickly."

Staged a Comeback from Physical Disability

After five years of treatment, Wilma one day stunned her doctors when she removed her leg braces and walked by herself. She had been practicing—with the help of those siblings—for quite some time. Soon she was able to walk even better with the help of a supportive shoe. This she wore until she was eleven. After that, she not only left braces and orthopedic shoes behind, she confounded every prediction that she would be a disabled adult. Soon she was joining her brothers and sisters in basketball games in the Rudolph backyard and running street races against other children her age. "By the time I was 12," she told the Chicago Tribune, "I was challenging every boy in our neighborhood at running, jumping, everything."

Rudolph desperately wanted to play high school basketball, but she simply could not convince the coach to put her on the team. When she finally worked up the nerve to ask him for a tryout, he agreed to coach her privately for ten minutes each morning. Still she was cut in her freshman year. She finally earned a position on the roster at Burt High School in Clarksville because the coach wanted her older sister to play. Her father agreed to allow the sibling onto the team only if Wilma could be on it too.

Rudolph soon blossomed into a fine basketball player. As a sophomore she scored 803 points in 25 games, a new state record for a player on a girls' basketball team. She also started running in track meets and found that her greatest strengths lay in the sprint. She was only fourteen when she attracted the attention of Ed Temple, the women's track coach at Tennessee State University. Temple told her she had the potential to become a great runner, and during the summer recesses from high school she trained with him and the students at Tennessee State.

The Olympic Games were a far-off dream to a young black woman in Tennessee. She was a teenager before she even learned what the Olympics were. Rudolph caught on fast, though. In four seasons of high school track meets, she never lost a race. At the tender age of sixteen, she qualified for the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, and came home with a bronze medal. Rudolph told the Chicago Tribune: "I remember going back to my high school this particular day with the bronze medal and all the kids that I disliked so much or I thought I disliked … put up this big huge banner: 'Welcome Home Wilma.' And I forgave them right then and there…. They passed my bronze medal around so that everybody could touch, feel and see what an Olympic medal is like. When I got it back, there were handprints all over it. I took it and I started shining it up. I discovered that bronze doesn't shine. So, I decided I'm going to try this one more time. I'm going to go for the gold."

Rudolph entered Tennessee State University in the fall of 1957, with a major in elementary education. All of her spare time was consumed by running, however. The pace took its toll, and she found herself too ill to run through most of the 1958 season. She rebounded in 1959, only to pull a muscle at a crucial meet between the United States and the Soviet Union in Philadelphia. Ed Temple, who would prove to be a life-long friend, supervised her recovery and by 1960 Rudolph was ready to go to Rome.

Rudolph was not the first black woman to receive an Olympic gold medal: that distinction goes to Alice Coachman-Davis, who took first place in the high jump at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, England. A dozen years later at the 1960 Olympics, Rudolph won all three of her gold medals in very dramatic fashion. In both the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash, she finished at least three yards in front of her closest competitor. She tied the world record in the 100-meter and set a new Olympic record in the 200. Rudolph also brought her 400-meter relay team from behind to win the gold. The French called her "La Gazelle." Without question, Rudolph's achievements at the 1960 Olympic Games remain a stand-out performance in the history of Olympic competition.

The Price of Fame

Wilma Rudolph became an instant celebrity in Europe and America. Crowds gathered wherever she was scheduled to run. She was given ticker tape parades, an official invitation to the White House by president John F. Kennedy, and a dizzying round of dinners, awards, and television appearances. Rudolph remembered in Ebony magazine that the royal treatment she received was rather shallow—she was treated like a star, but not given the money to live like one. Today, beautiful young women athletes can count on endorsements for commercial products and hefty fees for personal appearances. That was not so in Rudolph's era, especially for a black athlete. She told Ebony: "You become world famous and you sit with kings and queens, and then your first job is just a job. You can't go back to living the way you did before because you've been taken out of one setting and shown the other. That becomes a struggle and makes you struggle."

Rudolph made one decision that she stuck to firmly: she refused to participate in the 1964 Olympic games. She felt that she might not be able to duplicate her achievement of 1960, and she did not want to appear to be fading. She retired from amateur athletics in 1963, finished her college work, and became a school teacher and athletic coach. She also became a mother, raising four children on her own after divorcing two husbands.

Talent Didn't Go to Waste

For more than two decades, Wilma Rudolph sought to impart the lessons she learned about amateur athletics to other young men and women. She was the author of an autobiography, Wilma, that was published in 1977—and the subject of a television movie based on the book. She lectured in every part of America and even served in 1991 as an ambassador to the European celebration of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Rudolph helped to open and run inner city sports clinics and served as a consultant to university track teams. She also founded her own organization, the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, dedicated to promoting amateur athletics.

"I think the thing that made life good for me is that I never looked back," Rudolph told Ebony. "I've always been positive no matter what happened." Rudolph added that she has always believed in herself and her abilities, and that the phrase "I can't" never applied to her.

Rudolph was a member of the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. She traveled frequently and was well known for her motivational speeches to youngsters. "I love working with kids. It's the motherly instinct in me," she told Newsday. And in an interview with Ebony, Rudolph claimed that her moment of Olympic glory "sort of sent my way all the other positive things and feelings that I've had. That one accomplishment—what happened in 1960—nobody can take from me. It was something I worked for. It wasn't something somebody handed to me."

Asked what she felt was her greatest achievement, Rudolph looked past 1960 to all the work she had done since. "My thoughts about my life, my great moment, if I left the Earth today, would be knowing that I have tried to give something to young people," she commented in the Chicago Tribune. "Hopefully, for the first time, I'm beginning to see that young black women in America are making a large contribution in sports. The impression is that together we can make a first. And that makes me very happy."

On November 12, 1994, Wilma Rudolph died at her home in Brentwood, Tennessee of a malignant brain tumor. She is survived by two sons, two daughters, six sisters, and two brothers.

Further Reading

Rust, Edna, and Art Rust Jr., Art Rust's Illustrated History of the Black Athlete, Doubleday, 1985.

Chicago Tribune, January 8, 1989.

Ebony, February 1984; January 1992.

Jet, February 2, 1987.

Newsday, October 14, 1990.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), August 18, 1991.

Time, September 19, 1960.

Upscale, October/November 1992.

USA Today, July 17, 1996.

Detroit Free Press, November 13, 1994. □

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Rudolph, Wilma

Wilma Rudolph

Born: June 23, 1940
St. Bethlehem, Tennessee
Died: November 12, 1994
Brentwood, Tennessee

African American track and field athlete, sports manager, and coach

The African American athlete Wilma Rudolph made history in the 1960 Summer Olympic games in Rome, Italy, when she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the track and field competition.

An uphill battle

Almost every circumstance was stacked against Wilma Rudolph from the day she was born on June 23, 1940. Her father, Ed Rudolph, had eleven children by a first marriage while his second marriage yielded eight more, of which Wilma was the fifth. At birth she weighed only four-and-a-half pounds. Her mother, Blanche, a housemaid, feared for Wilma's survival from the outset. The family lived in tiny St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, a farming community about forty-five miles southeast of Nashville, Tennessee. Shortly after Wilma was born, the Rudolphs moved to nearby Clarksville, Tennessee, where they lived in town. Her father worked as a porter on railroad cars, and her mother cleaned houses six days a week. Older siblings helped care for the sickly baby who had come into the world prematurely.

At the age of four, Wilma was severely weakened when she contracted polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often causes developmental problems in children. She survived the illness, but she lost the use of her left leg. Specialists in Nashville recommended routine massage therapy for the limb, and Mrs. Rudolph learned it and taught it to some of the older children. Thus, Wilma's legs were massaged a number of times each day, helping her to regain strength. Rudolph's confidence may have flagged at times in her childhood when it seemed she might spend a lifetime in leg braces or even a wheelchair. Through the efforts of her devoted familyand her own steely determination to strengthen herselfshe rose from disability to Olympic glory.

Staged a comeback from physical disability

After five years of treatment, Wilma one day stunned her doctors when she removed her leg braces and walked by herself. Soon she was joining her brothers and sisters in basketball games in the Rudolph backyard and running street races against other children her age. "By the time I was 12," she told the Chicago Tribune, "I was challenging every boy in our neighborhood at running, jumping, everything."

Rudolph desperately wanted to play high school basketball, but she simply could not convince the coach to put her on the team. When she finally worked up the nerve to ask him for a tryout, he agreed to coach her privately for ten minutes each morning. Still she was cut in her freshman year. She finally earned a position on the roster at Burt High School in Clarksville, Mississippi, because the coach wanted her older sister to play. Her father agreed to allow her sister to join the team only if Wilma was allowed to join, too.

Rudolph soon blossomed into a fine basketball player. As a sophomore she scored 803 points in twenty-five games, a new state record for a player on a girls' basketball team. She also started running in track meets and found that her greatest strengths lay in the sprint. She was only fourteen when she attracted the attention of Ed Temple, the women's track coach at Tennessee State University. Temple told her she had the potential to become a great runner, and during the summer breaks from high school she trained with him and the students at Tennessee State.

An Olympian

The Olympic Games were a far-off dream to a young African American woman in Tennessee. She was a teenager before she even learned what the Olympics were. Rudolph caught on fast, though. In four seasons of high school track meets, she never lost a race. At the tender age of sixteen, she qualified for the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, and came home with a bronze medal.

Rudolph entered Tennessee State University in the fall of 1957, with the intention of majoring in elementary education. All of her spare time was consumed by running, however. The pace took its toll, and she found herself too ill to run through most of the 1958 season. She rebounded in 1959, only to pull a muscle at a crucial meet between the United States and the Soviet Union, the former country made up of Russia and several smaller nations. Ed Temple, who would prove to be a lifelong friend, supervised her recovery, and by 1960 Rudolph was ready to go to Rome, Italy.

At the 1960 Olympics, Rudolph won all three of her gold medals in very dramatic fashion. In both the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash, she finished at least three yards in front of her closest competitor. She tied the world record in the 100-meter and set a new Olympic record in the 200. Rudolph also brought her 400-meter relay team from behind to win the gold. The French called her "La Gazelle." Without question, Rudolph's achievements at the 1960 Olympic Games remain a stand-out performance in the history of Olympic competition.

After the fame

Wilma Rudolph became an instant celebrity in Europe and America. Crowds gathered wherever she was scheduled to run. She was given ticker tape parades, an official invitation to the White House by President John F. Kennedy (19171963), and a dizzying round of dinners, awards, and television appearances.

Rudolph made one decision that she stuck to firmly: she refused to participate in the 1964 Olympic games. She felt that she might not be able to duplicate her achievement of 1960, and she did not want to appear to be fading. She retired from amateur athletics in 1963, finished her college work, and became a school teacher and athletic coach. She also became a mother, raising four children on her own after two divorces.

Talent didn't go to waste

For more than two decades, Wilma Rudolph sought to impart the lessons she learned about amateur athletics to other young men and women. She was the author of an autobiography, Wilma, which was published in 1977and the subject of a television movie based on her book. She lectured in every part of America and even served in 1991 as an ambassador to the European celebration of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the wall that for three decades separated East from West Berlin, Germany. Rudolph helped to open and run inner-city sports clinics and served as a consultant to university track teams. She also founded her own organization, the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, dedicated to promoting amateur athletics.

Rudolph was a member of the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. She traveled frequently and was well known for her motivational speeches to youngsters.

On November 12, 1994, Wilma Rudolph died at her home in Brentwood, Tennessee, of a brain tumor. She is survived by two sons, two daughters, six sisters, two brothers, and a truly inspirational legacy.

For More Information

Coffey, Wayne. Wilma Rudolph. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1993.

Flanagan, Alice K. Wilma Rudolph: Athlete and Educator. Chicago: Ferguson, 2000.

Krull, Kathleen. Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Ruth, Amy. Wilma Rudolph. Minneapolis: Lerner, 2000.

Sherrow, Victoria. Wilma Rudolph: Olympic Champion. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.

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Rudolph, Wilma Glodean

Wilma Glodean Rudolph, 1940–94, American track and field athlete, b. Clarksville, Tenn. The 20th of 22 children, she overcame childhood polio to become one of the premiere athletes of her time. She won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in the 100-meter and 200-meter races and the 4 × 100 meter relay. In 1961 she won the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award, given annually to the top American amateur athlete.

See her autobiography, Wilma (1978).

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"Rudolph, Wilma Glodean." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. 28 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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