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On this date in 1940, Wilma Rudolph was born. She was an African American sprinter and first American woman to win three Olympic gold medals.
Born in Bethlehem, TN., Wilma Glodean Rudolph had suffered from scarlet fever, double pneumonia, and polio as a child. This left her with limited use of her left leg and she wore a brace until age nine. By age 12, Rudolph was the fastest runner in her school. At Burt High School, she starred in both track and basketball. At a track meet at Tuskegee, AL., Rudolph impressed coach Ed Temple, who invited her to a summer track camp in Nashville. She won to a place on the 1956 U.S. Olympic 4 x 100-meter relay team in Melbourne, which won the bronze medal.
In the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, Rudolph won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the 4 x 100-meter relay. She held the world record in all three events when she retired from amateur competition in 1962. After graduating from Tennessee State University in 1963, Rudolph dedicated her professional life to youth programs and education. She worked with the Job Corps in St. Louis and Boston, and the Watts Community Action Committee in Los Angeles, CA. Rudolph was inducted to the Black Sports Hall of Fame in 1973, the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.
In 1981, she founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on developing young athletic talent. In 1977, she published her autobiography, “Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph.” Wilma Rudolph died in November 1994.
Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History
Volume 1, ISBN #0-02-897345-3
Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, Cornel West