Sunday, March 22, 2009
Athlete, Olympic track and field champion. Born on June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee. Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field events at the Olympics. But the road to victory was not an easy one for her. Born premature and sickly as a child, Rudolph had problems with her left leg and had to wear a brace. It was with great determination and with the help of physical therapy that she was able to overcome her physical disabilities. Growing up in the South during days of segregation, Rudolph attended an African-American high school where she played on the basketball team. A naturally gifted runner, she later recruited for the track team. While still in high school, Rudolph qualified for the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. At the age of 16, she was the youngest member of the U.S. team and won a bronze medal in the sprint relay event. After finishing high school, Rudolph enrolled at Tennessee State University where she studied education. She also trained hard for the next Olympics. Held in Rome, Italy, the 1960 Olympics were a golden time for Rudolph. She won the 100 meter, 200 meter, and sprint relay events, making her one of the popular athletes from the games. This first-class sprinter became a sports superstar, celebrated around the world for her achievements. She made numerous appearances on television and received several honors, including being named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year twice. After retiring from competition in the early 1960s, Rudolph worked as a teacher and a track coach. She shared her remarkable story with the world in 1977 with her autobiography, Wilma. Her book was later turned into a television film. In the 1980s, she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and established the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to promote amateur athletics. Rudolph died on November 12, 1994, near Nashville, Tennessee, from brain cancer. In 2004, the United States Postal Service honored this Olympic champion by featuring her likeness on a 23-cent stamp. She is remembered as one of the fastest women in track and as a source of great inspiration for generations of African-American athletes. © 2007 A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.