During the 1960 Olympics Games, Wilma Rudolph broke the historical records for becoming the first American woman and the first African-American to ever win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics, held in Rome, Italy.
Following her victories in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, American sprinter Wilma Rudolph Glodean, a native of Clarksville, Tennessee, broke the world record in the Olympic championship and rose to become an icon of track and field around the world. At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, Wilma Rudolph ran in the 200-meter dash and took home a bronze in the 4 100-meter relay. She also won three gold medals at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, in the 100- and 200-meter individual races as well as the 4 x 100-meter relay.
In St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, on June 23, 1940, Wilma Rudolph was born too soon. Blanche and Ed Rudolph had 22 children total, and she was the 20th. She went on to become a groundbreaking track and field champion for African Americans. But Wilma’s win did not come easily or quickly. During her childhood, she suffered from polio, scarlet fever, and double pneumonia. These made Wilma aware of the issues with her left leg, which led to the need for a brace. She was able to get over her difficulties with a lot of perseverance and the aid of physical treatment.
Rudolph, who was raised in the segregated South, went to the all-black Burt High School and played basketball there. She was scouted to train with Tennessee State University track coach Ed Temple because she was a naturally talented runner.
In the 1960s, Wilma was praised for being the world’s quickest woman. She became the first American woman to take home three gold medals from one Olympic competition. In addition to other Olympians who competed in Rome, Italy, like Clay Cassius (better known as Muhammad Ali), Robertson Oscar, and Johnson Rafer, Wilma reportedly rose to international fame during the 1960 Summer Olympics.
In the early 1960s, Wilma was one of the most well-known black women in both the United States and overseas due to her success at the Olympics. She rose to fame and served as an inspiration for black people and female athletes all around the world. Her performance at the 1960 Olympics contributed to the growth of women’s track and field in the US. In addition to playing games, Wilma was a prominent supporter of women’s and civil rights.
By 1962, Wilma Rudolph had reached the pinnacle of her athletic career and was the undisputed world champion in the 100- and 200-meter solo races as well as the 4 x 100-meter relay. She graduated from Tennessee State University in 1963 and went on to become an educator and a coach after participating in the 1960 Summer Olympics. Her accomplishments are honored in a variety of ways, including documentaries, American postage stamps, a made-for-television film, and numerous publications, particularly novels for children, young adults, and teens.
She died on November 12, 1994, in Brentwood, Tennessee, after losing a battle with brain cancer.