American track and field athlete
Recognized as one of track and field history's most accomplished sprinters, Evelyn Ashford is the only woman in U.S. track history to win four Olympic gold medals—one in the 100-meter sprint and three as part of
4 × 100-meter relay teams. Two years after giving birth to her daughter, she won a silver medal for the 100-meter in the 1988 Olympics, finishing second to the great U.S. sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner , and a gold medal in the 4 × 100 relays. Ashford twice broke the world record for the 100-meter sprint and broke the American record five times. She broke the American record for the 200-meter sprint three times. A U.S. national champion five times in the 100-meter and five times in the 200-meter, Ashford won the World Cup a total of four times and won the Pan-Am Championship in each race in 1979. Still running in top form at age thirty-five, she won a gold medal in the 4 × 100 relays in the 1992 Olympics.
Racing the Boys
Evelyn Ashford was born April 15, 1957, in Shreveport, Louisiana, but grew up in the Sacramento, California, area. One day as she was running during physical education class at Roseville High School, the football coach pulled her aside and asked if she would race his fastest player. "I think you can beat him," the coach said. Evelyn did, and from then on she began to win little prizes and big popularity for running faster than the male athletes. Because girls did not yet have their own track team at Roseville, Evelyn became the only female member of the boys' team in the early 1970s. By her senior year in high school, she had won numerous state and regional track meets, racing against other girls.
During her senior year, Ashford became one of the first women to be offered a full athletic scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). She accepted the scholarship and began training for the 1976 Olympics during her freshman year. She qualified for the 100-meter sprint but came in fifth place at her first Olympic Games, in Montreal, Canada, at age nineteen. A taste of the Olympics and a drive to win a gold medal, inspired by the great African-American woman athlete Wilma Rudolph , gave Ashford the impetus she needed to train hard for the 1980 Olympics. She left UCLA in 1978 to focus on her training full time.
|1957||Born April 15 in Shreveport, Louisiana|
|1972-75||Defeats star male football runner in race at Roseville High School (Roseville, California) and becomes only female on school track team; serves as co-captain during senior year|
|1975||Accepts a full athletic scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles|
|1976||Competes in Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, finishing fifth in the 100-meter dash|
|1978||Leaves college to train full-time for the 1980 Olympics|
|1980||U.S. President Jimmy Carter boycotts Olympics in Moscow to protest Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; Ashford is devastated that she will not get to compete|
|1981||Competes in World Cup championships|
|1983||Pulls right hamstring and falls during finals at World Cup|
|1984||Competes in Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California, winning two gold medals and setting an Olympic record in sprinting|
|mid-1980s||Serves as reporter for cable TV program World Class Woman|
|1986||Gives birth to daughter, Raina Ashley Washington|
|1987||Misses most of track season because of troublesome hamstring muscle|
|1988||Competes in Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, winning a gold medal for 4 × 100 relay and a silver in sprinting after finishing second to Florence Griffith-Joyner|
|1992||Competes in Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, winning gold medal as leader of 4 × 100 relay team, at age 35|
|1992||Retires after Olympics; devotes time to raising her daughter and serves as public speaker and track-and-field commentator|
|1999||Participates in U.S. Olympic Committee's worldwide Olympic Day on June 23|
Ranked number one in the world in the 100-meter dash at age twenty-three, Ashford believed she was in the prime of her career as the time neared for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, USSR. However, along with dozens of other American athletes, Ashford was devastated when President Jimmy Carter announced a U.S. boycott of the Olympics in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Ashford abandoned her training, and she and her husband, Ray Washington, spent the summer traveling around the United States and visiting relatives. However, Ashford soon set her sights on the 1984 Games. She took first place in the 1981 World Cup in both 100- and 200-meter races and was the U.S. National Champion in 1983, in both sprints. However, after winning her first two 100-meter races in the 1983 World Championships, she pulled her right hamstring muscle and fell in the final race. The injury stayed with her into 1984 and was still bothering her as the Olympics began.
Her determination and training paid off, however. The 1984 Olympics were held in her college town, Los Angeles, and this time the Soviets led a boycott. Ashford withdrew from the 200-meter race to rest her hamstring and focus on the 100-meter. In that race she defeated Heike Drechsler of Germany to win her first Olympic gold medal. In tears as she finished the race and throughout the medal ceremony, Ashford said she couldn't believe it was over and that she had won. Yet, the 27-year-old runner had another gold medal coming, in the 4 × 100-meter relay. It was the first of three consecutive gold medals she would bring home in that event.
Ashford's critics claimed that her 1984 Olympic win was not decisive because East German champion Marlies Gohr had not raced due to the Communist boycott. However, soon after the Olympics, Ashford and Gohr competed in the 100-meter in a Zurich, Switzerland, meet. Ashford was slightly behind Gohr for ninety meters but gathered speed during the last ten to beat the German champion and set a world-record time of 10.79 seconds, Ashford's career personal best. This victory silenced her critics, and another Olympic win four years later proved she was the best in the 4 × 100 relay as well.
Gold and Silver
Ashford gave birth to her daughter, Raina Ashley, in 1986 and went back to training shortly afterward. By 1988 she had won the 100-meter at the Goodwill Games and had qualified for the Olympics, although still battling the troublesome hamstring injury throughout 1987. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Ashford finished second in the 100-meter race, narrowly losing to the celebrated American runner Florence Griffith-Joyner. Teaming up with Griffith-Joyner, Alice Brown, and Sheila Echols for the 4 × 100 relay, however, Ashford won her third Olympic gold medal, to go with her silver.
In the relay, she and Griffith-Joyner fumbled the baton exchange, leaving Ashford with the task of catching up to and beating Russian runner Natalya Pomoshchnikova and then her old opponent Marlies Gohr. Ashford passed them both for the win, wiping out any vestige of criticism that she was a second-place runner to the East German. However, Ashford was angry with herself for some time over losing the 100-meter to Griffith-Joyner, even though experts have said that "Flo-Jo" could not have been beaten by anyone that year.
The Fastest Doubleheader Ever
Ashford isn't the fastest starter, but …she caught a good one. Then she just tore on down the track. "I wasn't thinking about anything; I just ran," she said. "I didn't seem to wake up until the last 20 meters. When I crossed the line, I thought, 'That was nothing special. Maybe 11.1'." Her "nothing special" was 10.79, a world record. Her wind was a legal .56 mps. When she heard the time, she collapsed. "I'm stunned," she said. "Just stunned… stunned."
Source: Moore, Kenny. Sports Illustrated (July 11, 1983): 28.
Awards and Accomplishments
|As of the end of 2002, Ashford was the only woman in U.S. track-and-field history to win four Olympic gold medals. She won two of those medals, and her Olympic silver medal, after the birth of her daughter.|
|The Flo Hyman Award, established in 1987, commemorates the All-World Cup volleyball team player, who died at age 31. It is given by the Women's Sports Foundation to a woman athlete who over her career has exemplified Hyman's "dignity, spirit and commitment to excellence."|
|The ESPY Award is given by ESPN television for excellence in sports performance.|
|1976||Qualified for U.S. Olympic team and placed fifth in 100-meter sprint|
|1977||Won Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) championships in 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and 800-meter relay|
|1977, 1979, 1981-83||U.S. National Champion in 100-meter sprint|
|1977-79, 1981, 1983||U.S. National Champion in 200-meter sprint|
|1978||Won AIAW 200-meter dash and finished second in 100-meter dash|
|1979||Broke American record for 200-meter sprint three times; Pan-Am Champion in both 100-meter and 200-meter sprint|
|1979, 1981||World Cup Champion in 100-meter and 200-meter sprint|
|1979, 1981, 1983-84||Broke American record for 100-meter sprint a total of five times|
|1983-84||Broke world record for 100-meter sprint|
|1984||Olympic Gold Medal for 100-meter sprint|
|1984, 1988, 1992||Won Olympic Gold Medals for 4 × 100-meter relay|
|1988||Olympic Silver Medal for 100-meter sprint; first black woman to carry American flag during an Olympic opening ceremony|
|1989||Won Flo Hyman Award, given by Women's Sport Foundation|
|1993||Won ESPY Award as Outstanding Women's Track Performer of the Year|
|1994||Inducted into Mt. San Antonio College Relays Hall of Fame|
|1997||Inducted into U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame; inducted into Women's Sports Hall of Fame|
Instead of retiring after her 1988 Olympic victories, Ashford continued to train and by 1992 had qualified for the Olympic Summer Games in both the sprint and the 4 × 100 relay. On learning of her qualification, she told the press, "I don't know about you guys, but I'm excited! I'm 35. I'm not supposed to be running like this." At the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain, where she was referred to as "the grand old lady of track," Ashford won her fourth gold medal, in the 4 × 100 relay.
Since retiring after the 1992 Olympics, Ashford has served as a public speaker and has done Olympic advisory work for General Motors. She has also been a track and field commentator and has made public appearances for the U.S. Olympic Committee, although most of her time is devoted to being a mother to her daughter, Raina. She told Don Bosley of the Sacramento Bee in April 2000, "This is as close as I need to be to track and field. I am very satisfied with where I left the sport, what I accomplished in the sport." She also said that Wilma Rudolph was her inspiration as a girl. "I just wanted to get some Olympic gold medals," said Ashford. "I thought that was the highest accomplishment anybody could have was to get a gold medal. Even one."
Evelyn Ashford has been one of the most successful women sprinters in history, overcoming the obstacles of a lack of support for women in the sport during the early 1970s as well as the lost opportunity to participate in the 1980 Olympics. At only 5'5" tall, she was fiercely competitive on the track but warm and personable to everyone. Ashford has proved that being a wife and mother can be compatible with sustaining a record-breaking career in sports.
Address: 818 Plantation Lane, Walnut, CA 91789.
Great Women in Sports. "Evelyn Ashford." Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.
Who's Who among African Americans, 14th ed. "Evelyn Ashford." Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.
Bosley, Don. "Golden Memories: Ashford Content with Her Medals, Doesn't Begrudge Jones' Fortunes." Sacramento Bee (April 2, 2000).
Harvey, Randy. "Ashford's Extra Gear Made Her a Racing Machine." Los Angeles Times (December 3, 1997): 3.
Moore, Kenny. "The Fastest Doubleheader Ever: Evelyn Ashford, Calvin Smith Set World Records at National Sports Festival." Sports Illustrated (July 11, 1983): 28.
All-Star Agency. "Evelyn Ashford." http://www.allstaragency.com/ (January 8, 2003).
ESPN. "ESPY Awards Past Winners." http://espn.go.com/ (January 9, 2003).
Hickok Sports.com. "Ashford, Evelyn; Flo Hyman Award." http://www.hickoksports.com/ (January 8, 2003).
Infoplease. "Evelyn Ashford." http://www.infoplease.com/ (January 8, 2003).
International Medalist Association. "Olympic Day 1999." http://www.internationalmedalist.org/ (January 8, 2003).
Mt. San Antonio College Relays Hall of Fame. "Evelyn Ashford." http://vm.mtsac.edu/relays/HallFame/Ashford.htm (January 8, 2003).
Sketch by Ann H. Shurgin
Over a sixteen year period, American sprinter Evelyn Ashford (born 1957) won five Olympic medals. It is likely that she would have won more medals if the United States had not boycotted the 1980 Olympics when she was in her prime. She participated in the Olympics in 1976, 1984, 1988, and 1992. She raced not only against seconds, but also against years, as she raced in her fourth Olympics at age 35.
Ashford was born on April 15, 1957, in Shreveport, Louisiana. Her father, Samuel Ashford, was a career Air Force man, and so the family, which also included a brother and three sisters, moved often, following him from post to post. Her mother, Vietta, told People, about her daughter, "She was a start-and-stop sort of child. She only had two speeds, either she was running full tilt or sitting quietly, reading."
When Ashford was a young adolescent, her father was sent to Vietnam to fight in the war, and the rest of the family moved to Athens, Alabama. Then, while Ashford was in high school, her father was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base, and the family moved to Roseville, California, where she attended Roseville High School. "My father was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot, and my high school didn't have a girls' track team," she explained, according to Frederick C. Klein of the Wall Street Journal. "One day the football coach saw me running with the other girls in P.E. class and noticed I was fast. He got me to run against some of his players, to motivate them, I guess. I beat 'em all. Pretty soon, watching the boys try to run against Evelyn at lunch time was the thing to do for the rest of the kids." She regularly beat the school's star football running back in the 50-yard dash. Even competing against boys from other schools, she was winning. In 1975, she placed third in the Junior National Track Championships. She was one of the first women offered an athletic scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and she accepted.
One of the coaches at UCLA, three-time Olympian Pat Connolly, took an interest in Ashford. One day, she asked Ashford to run the 100-yard dash. The time was so fast that Connolly thought she had made a mistake using the stopwatch and asked Ashford to run it again. She told Ashford that she had a good chance of making the 1976 United States Olympic Team. "I thought the lady was nuts," said Ashford, as reported in A to Z of American Women in Sports. Connolly helped Ashford develop her speed, as well as her self-esteem and belief in her ability to win. Ashford placed third at the Olympic trials and earned herself a spot on the team. At the Olympics, in Montreal, Canada, Ashford finished fifth in the 100-yard dash, beating her more experienced teammate Chandra Cheeseborough, as well as East German Marlies Gohr, who through the years would become a chief rival.
Ashford had quickly been drawn into the world of competitive sprinting, and after her taste of the Olympics, she wanted more. She wanted to win a gold medal. In 1977, she dominated, winning sprint titles in both collegiate and national women's competitions. Then, when she went to the Dusseldorf World Cup, she continued to beat the American sprinters but was beaten by other runners. Ashford felt humiliated and determined. She said, "I had to find out if I had what it took to become a true world class sprinter," reported Great Athletes.
In 1978, Ashford married Ray Washington, a basketball coach at San Jacinto College, and in 1979, she decided to leave UCLA and take a job at a Nike shoe store in order to concentrate on her athletic training. Connolly agreed to continue to coach her, even though she was no longer at UCLA. Ashford set the American record for the 100-meters at 10.97 seconds. At the 1979 Montreal World Cup, Ashford took the world by storm, beating her rival, Gohr, who was the current world record holder and favorite to win, in the 100-meter race. She also beat another rival, Marita Koch, in the 200-meter race, with a time of 21.83 seconds. This established her as the favorite to win the 100-meter race at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow in the Soviet Union.
Olympic Dream Catastrophe
Politics shattered Ashfrod's world. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and in protest, United States President Jimmy Carter and the Unites States Olympic Committee (USOC) announced that the United States athletes would not be attending the Moscow Olympics. Over 50 other countries also participated in the boycott. Ashford was devastated—she had trained so hard. She was in prime condition and she was so upset that she considered leaving the sport. Ashford also suffered an injury, so she ran very little in 1980. That summer, she and her husband, Washington, went on a car trip across the United States. Ashford used the time to re-evaluate her career and determine what her goals were. By the end of the trip, she had made some decisions. She would continue to train with the hopes of attaining two gold medals in the 1984 Olympics. She also decided to have her husband become her head coach.
Her determination to succeed showed in her successes. In 1981, she won the 100-meter and the 200-meter events at the World Cup. At the National Sports Festival in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1983, Ashford ran in the 100-meters. "I wasn't thinking about anything; I just ran," she said in Sports Illustrated reported by Kenny Moore. "I didn't seem to wake up until the last 20 meters. When I crossed the line, I thought, 'That was nothing special. Maybe 11.1.'" But it was something special. Ashford had set a world record in 10.79 seconds. When she heard the time, she was very surprised, "I'm stunned," she said. "Just stunned … stunned." Colorado Springs is at 7,200 feet above sea level, providing slightly less air resistance. "Hey, it was a world record," she replied when asked about the air. "Nobody ever got through 100 meters faster. I finally got perfect conditions; I realize that. A pretty day, nice mountains, nice people. Sure, altitude helps. I can't deny that my two best times were done up here [her previous American record of 10.90 was set in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center two years earlier], but I can run as well at low altitude." In 1984, she was chosen as Athlete of the Year.
During the quarterfinals in the 100-meter dash at the 1984 Olympic trials, Ashford felt a pull in her leg with only ten minutes before the gun would go off for the start of the race. Worried about possible injury, she went to the trainer's tent where her leg was taped in a rush. She had to place in the top three in order to make the cut onto the team. The gun went off, and Ashford raced to a third place finish, making the team despite her injury. She went on to become the fastest woman in the world; winning two gold medals at the Los Angeles Olympics. First, she raced in the 100-meters. "I didn't feel that much in control," she reportedly said in the August 13, 1984, edition of Sports Illustrated. "I felt that my legs were moving too fast for my body." She won with an Olympic Record of 10.97. As Ashford stood on the platform to receive her first gold medal, she burst into tears of joy and relief. She had worked long and hard to get there. "The response in the Olympic stadium today tells me that I'm very much appreciated. Running fast and being good at what I do are reward enough for me right now," she said in Sports Illustrated. The other gold medal was for racing as part of the 4x100 relay team, which also included Alice Brown, Jeanette Bolden, and Chandra Cheeseborough. The only thing that could have made the experience better for Ashford was if she were racing against some of her toughest rivals. In 1984, the Soviet Union and 13 communist allies boycotted the Olympics, so Ashford had not yet had an Olympic competition against some of her toughest opponents. However, later in the year, Ashford beat Gohr with a world record time of 10.76.
Then, Ashford took some time off to have a baby. Raina Ashley Washington was born on May 30, 1985. It was Ashford's first time off from racing in a long time, and she took advantage of it. "I slept late, watched the soap operas and ate what I wanted," she told the Wall Street Journal. "I gained 40 pounds while I was having my baby." A month after the birth, Ashford was back to training, and in 1986, she won the 55-meter dash in the Vitalis Olympic Invitational in 6.6 seconds.
Training continued to pay off, and in 1988, she won another gold in the 4x100 meter relay. However, Florence Griffith Joyner edged her out of the race for gold in the 100-meter dash, and she accepted the silver medal. At the time, she was one of only three women to win three Olympic gold medals, sharing the honor with Wyomia Tyus and Wilma Rudolph.
Amazingly, after 12 years of Olympic competition, Ashford did not stop. Her body did not seem aware that it was supposed to age. Ashford placed third at the qualifying trials for the 1992 Olympic team, granting her a ticket to her fourth Olympics. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm excited!" Ashford told the press, as reported in Runners World. "I'm 35. I'm not supposed to be running like this." She was honored by her teammates by being chosen to carry the United States flag in the Olympic opening ceremonies. Ashford went on to participate in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, and at age 35, she won her final gold medal, again in the 4x100 relay.
Following the Barcelona Olympics, Ashford retired from sprinting after 16 years of Olympic competition. She worked occasionally as a television commentator and served as a co-chairperson of Athletes for Literacy.
In 1989, the Flo Hyman Award was presented to Ashford in one of President George H. W. Bush's first official receptions as president in conjunction with the third annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day, sponsored by the Women's Sports Foundation. The award is named for Flo Hyman, an Olympic volleyball star, who worked to develop Title IX, a bill that forbids sexual discrimination in educational institutions. Ashford spoke at a luncheon on Capital Hill in conjunction with receiving the award. "I'm a product of Title IX," she said, according to the Washington Post. "Because Title IX had passed, they had to let me run on the boys track team. Because of that, I was able to go to college." She also used her time at the podium to denounce the rampant use of drugs and steroids among track and field competitors. Ashford has inspired many people with her determination and enthusiasm, and in 1997, she was named to the International Women's Hall of Fame.
Edelson, Paula, A to Z of American Women in Sports, Facts on File, Inc., 2002.
Great Athletes, Salem Press/Magill Books, 2001.
Molzahn, Arlene Bourgeois, Top 10 American Women Sprinters, Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1998.
Plowden, Martha Ward, Olympic Black Women, Pelican Publishing Company, 1996.
People, August 6, 1984.
Runner's World, September 1992.
Sports Illustrated, July 11, 1983; August 13, 1984.
Wall Street Journal, February 7, 1986.
Washington Post, February 2, 1989; February 3, 1989.
Sprinter Evelyn Ashford once told the Washington Post, "There's nothing wrong with second, but I only want to be first," and for most of her career, that is exactly what she was. In 17 years on the track, the five-foot-five sprinter broke world records, was ranked best in the world 14 times, and earned five Olympic medals. Known for her record-breaking speeds in the 100-meter run, the event in which she earned her first gold medal, Ashford was also a powerhouse in the 100-meter relay, helping the Team U.S. win three consecutive gold medals in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympic Games. This final medal was earned when Ashford was 35 years old, a testament to her impressive longevity. Nearly 15 years after retiring from the track, Ashford's name is still carved on the record books, emblazoned in Halls of Fame, and revered by fans of track and field worldwide.
Outran the Boys to Break World Record
Evelyn Ashford was born on April 15, 1957, in Shreveport, Louisiana, the first of Samuel and Vietta Ashford's five children. Because Samuel's Air Force career kept the family on the move, it wasn't until they settled in Roseville, California that Ashford, whose long-time hero was the great African-American sprinter Wilma Rudolph, got serious about running. There was just one catch. Roseville High School did not have a girls' track team. However, when a school coach noticed Ashford's speed on the playground, he challenged her to race some of the football players. When she beat the school's star running back in a 50-yard dash, Ashford became a playground hero. Bucking gender lines, the school put her on the boys' track team and Ashford went on to place third in the Junior National Track Championships in 1975. In her senior year, she co-captained the team and upon graduation she became one of the first female athletes to win an athletic scholarship to UCLA.
As a collegiate runner, Ashford continued to draw attention for her speed on the track. UCLA track coach Pat Connolly, a three-time Olympian herself, saw Olympic potential in Ashford and took the young runner under her wing. Together, they worked on a training plan that primed Ashford for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Just a freshman in college, Ashford came in fifth in the 100-meter race and 7th in the 4x100-meter relay, a team event that involves four runners completing a 100-meter leg of the race. Back at school, Ashford won national collegiate championships in both the 100- and 200-meter runs and the 800-meter relay. However, the Olympic bug had bitten and after her junior year, Ashford dropped out of college to train full-time for the 1980 Olympics. That same year, she married Ray Washington, a UCLA basketball player.
At the 1979 World Cup, Ashford beat world-record holders in both the 100-meter and the 200-meter races. These wins pegged her as a favorite for the gold medal at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Moscow. Unfortunately, in December of 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response, then-U.S. president Jimmy Carter initiated a boycott of the Moscow games. Ashford was devastated. She and husband Ray took off for a cross-country road trip where the runner found both the solace and the strength to set her sights back on the track. The following year, Ashford once again scored world titles in both the 100-meter and 200-meter races at the World Cup in Rome. Then in 1983, she stunned even herself with a 100-meter race at the National Sports Festival in Colorado Springs. "I wasn't thinking about anything; I just ran," she told Sports Illustrated. "When I crossed the line, I thought, ‘That was nothing special. Maybe 11.1.’" She soon found out that she had clocked in at 10.79 seconds, a world record that earned her the nickname, "world's faster woman."
Became Track Legend with Five Olympic Medals
Following her world record run, Ashford was the favorite to win the upcoming World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, however a pulled hamstring muscle kept her from finishing the finals. Later that year, running in the 1984 Olympic trials, she once again felt a tug in her hamstring. Though she still managed to qualify for the games, the injury made her rethink her running strategy. She decided to stick only with the 100-meter race as the 200-meter carried too much potential for damage. Her plan worked. When the gun went off marking the start of the 100-meter Olympic run, Ashford flew. "I didn't feel that much in control," she later told Sports Illustrated. "I felt that my legs were moving too fast for my body." When it was over, Ashford had not only won the gold, but she had set a new Olympic record for the event, 10.97 seconds. As the medal was placed around her neck in front of a stadium full of her screaming hometown fans, the normally reserved Ashford wept openly. "The response in the Olympic stadium today tells me that I'm very much appreciated," she told Sports Illustrated.
Before the Los Angeles games were over, Ashford scored a second gold medal with the American 4x100 relay team. However, she was not done yet. Later that year, she broke her own world record in Zurich when she clocked the 100-meter run in at 10.76 seconds. As of 2007, her time still stood as the fifth fastest in the history of the event. In 1985, Ashford slowed down just enough to have a baby. By the following year, she was back on track, her feet flying directly towards the 1988 Olympics. Despite another hamstring injury which kept her out of the 1987 World Championships, Ashford won all but two of the races she entered. She expected to do the same at the Seoul Olympics, however a new force was about to be unleashed on the track. During the 100-meter race, teammate Florence Griffith-Joyner stunned the world with an unprecedented finish of 10.54 seconds, good for the gold medal. Ashford took home the silver. "I'd never been beaten in a major competition before," she later told the Washington Post. "In 1976, I ran in the Olympics at 18 and finished fifth. After that, I won. I'm a winner." Ashford did win one gold in Seoul as part of the 4x100 relay.
At a Glance …
Born on April 15, 1957, in Shreveport, LA; married Ray Washington, 1978; children: Raina Ashley Washington. Education: UCLA, 1975-79.
Career: Sprinter, 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4x100-meter relay, 1975-93.
Awards: Track & Field News, Female Athlete of the Year, 1981, 1984; Summer Olympic Games, Gold Medal, 100-meter race, 1984; Summer Olympic Games, Gold Medal, 4x100-meter relay, 1984; Summer Olympic Games, Silver Medal, 100-meter race, 1988; Summer Olympic Games, Gold Medal, 4x100-meter relay, 1988; Women's Sports Foundation, Flo Hyman Award, 1989; Summer Olympic Games, Gold Medal, 4x100-meter relay, 1992; ESPN, ESPY Award, Best Female Track Athlete, 1993; U.S. Olympic Festival, Robert J. Kane Award, 1993; National Track and Field Hall of Fame, inductee, 1997; USA Track and Field, Southern California Association, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2005; U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, inductee, 2006.
Memberships: U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, board of directors, 2003-;
With three Olympic gold medals, one silver, two world records, and several world championships under her cleats, Ashford could have retired a champion just then. By the time the next Olympics rolled around, she was 35, well beyond gold-winning age for track. Ashford, however, was not ready to quit. She made the Olympic trials and joined the U.S. track team as the oldest runner at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Though she was edged out of the 100-meter semi-finals by 1/1000th of a second, she finished first with the 4x100 relay team, winning her fourth Olympic gold medal. A year later, she finally retired, dedicating her life instead to raising her daughter and promoting literacy causes. Along with her old coach Connolly, she also became a vocal activist against the use of steroids in Olympic sports. Within a decade, Ashford had become a legend. She was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1997 and into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2006. Her picture has now joined that of her old idol Rudolph on the bedroom walls of girls across the country who hope to one day fly in Ashford's footsteps.
Connolly, Pat, Coaching Evelyn: Fast, Faster, Fastest Woman in the World, HarperCollins, 1991.
Sports Illustrated, July 11, 1983, p. 28; August 13, 1984, p. 60.
Washington Post, September 17, 1988, p. D8; January 12, 1989, p. B1.
"Ashford, Evelyn," Hickok Sports,www.hickoksports.com/biograph/ashforde.shtml (September 7, 2007).
"Class of 2006: Evelyn Ashford," United States Olympic Committee,www.usolympicteam.com/36370_37535.htm (September 7, 2007).
(b. 15 April 1957 in Shreveport, Louisiana), track and field short-distance runner who won five Olympic medals and was known at her peak as the "World's Fastest Woman."
Ashford was born into a military family. Her father, Samuel, a U.S. Air Force sergeant, and her mother, Vietta, frequently moved their family around the country, which made young Evelyn shy and reserved. She began to run track at Roseville High School in California; her school did not have a girls' track team, so Ashford ran on the boys' team until she graduated in 1974. Nevertheless, she won respect (she co-captained the team her senior year), races, and ultimately garnered enough attention to be given an athletic scholarship in track and field to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1975, one of the first women to receive such a scholarship. She received All-American honors in 1977 and 1978 and won the 1977 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national championships.
Outside the collegiate arena, Ashford made an immediate impact on the competitive racing world. Virtually unknown beyond California, she gained a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 1976 and finished fifth in the finals of the 100-meter competition. She continued her winning streak in the 1979 Montreal World Cup competition by beating Marlies Gohr, who was Ashford's consistent rival throughout her career. In this first meeting, Ashford beat Gohr, won the 100 meter, and looked toward the 1980 Olympics to claim her title as the fastest woman in the world. But politics nearly dashed her dreams when she and her coach, Pat Connolly, heard President Jimmy Carter's announcement of the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. The boycott affected Ashford deeply: She dropped out of UCLA in 1978 and began to work for a Nike shoe store, but then enrolled in California State, Los Angeles, to study fashion design.
She continued to train for the 1984 Olympics, to be held in Los Angeles, proving to her colleagues that she deserved to be on the world stage by winning the 100 meter and the 200 meter, and anchored the second-place 4 × 100-meter relay in the 1981 World Cup. Two years later, she competed against her rival Gohr, who held the record in the 100 meter; Ashford beat her again, but in the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, Ashford pulled her right hamstring muscle and fell onto the track in the finals. She did not withdraw from the 1984 Olympic trials, however, and won a place on the team. Ashford was seen as the leading hope for a gold medal; between 1981 and 1984, Track and Field News consistently ranked Ashford as the best American woman sprinter.
In the 1984 Olympics, Ashford's legendary 100-meter run made her the first woman to run the race in the Olympics in under eleven seconds. Some were not positive she would make it; her injury-prone history caused her to miss key races, and there was speculation that her right leg, which she had pulled in the 1983 World Championships and in the 1984 U.S. trials, would again cause her to sit out her meet. She even withdrew from the 200-meter race to protect her chances in the 400 meter. Ashford ran in the fourth lane, between Angela Bailey and Heather Oakes, but she saw neither of them as she broke the Olympic record. As she stood on the victory stand, Ashford cried, remembering how far she had come since the 1980 boycott. Six days later, she won her second gold medal as the anchor leg in the 4 × 400-meter relay.
Ashford continued to drill herself on the track and off. In Zurich in 1984, she posted a new world record for the 100 meter with a time of 10.76. The following year, she and her husband had a baby daughter. Though some urged her to give up running to spend more time with her infant, Ashford demurred, saying, "Motherhood made me a better runner. My endurance was better. I could run a mile, two miles, or four miles and have fantastic times." Indeed, in 1986, a year after giving birth, Ashford placed first in the 100 meter in the World Championships with a time of 10.88 seconds. For that achievement, she was called the World's Fastest Woman. In the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Ashford returned to the victory stand twice, again winning gold in the 4 × 400-meter relay and taking a silver medal in the 100-meter dash. Though her time of 10.83 seconds was exceptional, Florence "Flo-Jo" Griffith-Joyner won the race, beating Ashford by three-tenths of a second. In 1989 the Women's Sports Foundation awarded Ashford the Flo Hyman Trophy. But her career was not yet over; Ashford competed in the 1992 Olympics, again winning a gold medal in the 4 × 100-meter relay. Her team-mates affectionately called her "the grand old lady of track" at the ripe old age of thirty-five.
Ashford and her husband, Herbert "Ray" Washington, live in Walnut Creek, California, with their daughter. Ashford, who considers herself a full-time mom, still runs two to three miles each day.
Evelyn Ashford won a career nineteen national titles and is one of the greatest women sprinters in track and field history. She was a member of five U.S. Olympic teams, thus giving her one of the longest and most successful careers of any sprinter. She won four gold medals and one silver medal. In 2000, when the Los Angeles Invitational ranked the greatest forty runners to compete in the meet over forty years, Ashford was the first unanimous selection. A poll conducted by the International Amateur Athletic Federation ranked Ashford the all-time women's 100-meter best performer. She was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1997.
Michael D. Davis, Black American Women in Olympic Track and Field (1992), does a good job of placing Ashford in context with her fellow athletes, but unfortunately the analysis of her career ends with the 1988 Olympics. Ashford was also profiled in running magazines after her induction into the Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Judith A. Parker