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Wilma Rudolph the First American Woman to Win Three Olympics Track-and-Field Gold Medals


Wilma Glodean Rudolph was an American sprinter who overcame childhood polio and went on to become a world-record-holding Olympic champion and international sports icon in track and field following her successes in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. Rudolph competed in the 200-meter dash and won a bronze medal in the 4 × 100-meter relay at the 1956 Summer Olympics at Melbourne, Australia. She also won three gold medals, in the 100- and 200-meter individual events and the 4 x 100-meter relay at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. Rudolph was acclaimed the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games.

Due to the worldwide television coverage of the 1960 Summer Olympics, Rudolph became an international star along with other Olympic athletes such as Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali), Oscar Robertson, and Rafer Johnson who competed in Italy.



As an Olympic champion in the early 1960s, Rudolph was among the most highly visible black women in America and abroad. She became a role model for black and female athletes and her Olympic successes helped elevate women's track and field in the United States. Rudolph is also regarded as a civil rights and women's rights pioneer. In 1962 Rudolph retired from competition at the peak of her athletic career as the world record-holder in the 100- and 200-meter individual events and the 4 × 100-meter relays. After competing in the 1960 Summer Olympics, the 1963 graduate of Tennessee State University became an educator and coach.

Her strikingly fluid style made Rudolph a particular favourite with spectators and journalists. She won the AAU’s 1961 Sullivan Award as the year’s outstanding amateur athlete. After retiring as a runner, Rudolph was an assistant director for a youth foundation in Chicago during the 1960s to develop girls’ track-and-field teams, and thereafter she promoted running nationally. She was named to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1974, the International Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983, in the first group of inductees. Her autobiography, Wilma, was published in 1977. Her achievements are memorialized in a variety of tributes, including a U.S. postage stamp, documentary films, and a made-for-television movie, as well as in numerous publications, especially books for young readers.



Many watched and celebrated her, as this was the first Olympics to ever be televised in America. In Italy, she was referred to as “La Gazella Nera” or in English “The Black Gazelle”. In French, she was praised as “La Perle Noire” or “The Black Pearl”. She was invited to meet the Pope at the Vatican and even met President John F. Kennedy. In 1963, she was selected to represent the U.S. State Department as a Goodwill Ambassador at the Games of Friendship in Senegal.

“I would be very sad if I was only remembered as Wilma Rudolph, the great sprinter. To me, my legacy is to the youth of America to let them know they can be anything they want to be.”


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