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Haggai Erlich

Ethiopian athlete, was born on 7 August 1932 in Jato, a village located some eighty miles from Addis Ababa, outside the town of Mendida in Shewa Province. His father died before he was born, and young Abebe was adopted by Bikila Demisse, a shepherd. Having completed his studies at age twelve at the local traditional school, he followed in his adopted father’s footsteps. At the age of twenty, he decided to venture out of peasantry and made his way on foot to the capital, to join the Imperial Bodyguard. In 1954 he married Yewibdar Welde-Giyorgis, with whom he fathered four children. He distinguished himself as a talented player of gena, a traditional Ethiopian hockey game, but remained an anonymous soldier until the age of twenty-four. At that time, while guarding the departure of the Ethiopian delegation to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne he decided to begin competing ...


Steven B. Jacobson and William A. Jacobson

sprinter, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, the eldest of five children of Samuel Ashford, a non-commissioned U.S. Air Force officer, and Vietta Ashford, a homemaker. Because of her father's service assignments, the family lived a nomadic lifestyle before settling in Roseville, California, where Ashford was the only girl on Roseville High's boys track team. She earned her spot by beating the school's fastest boys. Ashford's precocious world-class speed was obvious by her senior year, when she recorded times of 11.5 and 24.2 seconds, respectively, in the 100 and 200 meter dashes.

Ashford entered UCLA in September 1975 with an athletic scholarship. She soon qualified for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada, and there, at nineteen, she qualified for the finals and was the top U.S. finisher in the 100 meters, finishing fifth in 11.24 seconds. Ashford was a collegiate all-American in 1977 and 1978 She ...


Hasaan A. Kirkland

football player and painter, was born Ernest Eugene Barnes Jr. in Durham, North Carolina, the son of Ernest Barnes Sr., a tobacco worker, and Fannie Mae Geer, who worked for a local legal official. On occasion Barnes talked with Mr. Fuller, his mother's employer, and from him learned about culture, art, and classical music.

Before the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 it was uncommon for African Americans in North Carolina to have access to museums or other sources of information about ancient or world cultures Segregation and racial inequalities in schools and other public institutions deprived most back children of avenues for artistic pursuits Despite such constraints Barnes s mother exposed her son to as much culture and art as she could he studied dance and horn and percussion instruments as well as the visual arts By the time ...


Richard Sobel

track-and-field athlete, motivational speaker, and activist for youth, was born Robert Alfred Beamon in Jamaica, New York, to Naomi Brown Beamon and a father he never met. After his mother died from tuberculosis before Beamon's first birthday, his stepfather, James, assumed parental responsibility for Robert and his older, disabled brother Andrew. Robert's grandmother, Bessie Beamon, ultimately took over their care as a result of James's inadequate parenting skills. Rarely supervised, Beamon ran away from home when he was fourteen and joined a gang. When he struck a teacher who had attempted to break up one of Beamon's fights, he was expelled and charged with assault and battery.

Beamon's life might have become a tragedy if it weren't for a judge who was “thoughtful, compassionate, and obviously interested in helping kids” (Second Chances 3 The judge took a chance and allowed Beamon to attend an alternative school in ...


Robert Fay

Abebe Bikila was born in Mout, Ethiopia. Before competing as a runner he was a member of the imperial bodyguard of Haile Selassie I, the Ethiopian emperor. The marathon at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy was only Bikila’s third race at this distance, but he set a new world best time of 2 hours 15 minutes 16.2 seconds. The designation world best is used instead of record because marathon courses differ greatly and comparison of finish times is difficult. Bikila also attracted attention by running barefoot.

At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Bikila, no longer competing barefoot, became the first runner to win the Olympic marathon twice. He finished with a new world best time of 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds. His previous mark had been broken several times between the Olympic games. Bikila competed in the marathon at the 1968 Olympic Games in ...


Adam R. Hornbuckle

track and field athlete and professional football and baseball player was born Edward Solomon Butler on 3 March 1895, in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Sol Butler was the youngest of three known children of Ben and Mary Butler. His father, born a slave in Georgia in 1842, took the last name of Butler after a Union officer with whom he served in the Civil War. His mother, originally from Georgia, was born a freewoman in 1867. The Butlers, as did many African Americans in the late nineteenth century, moved to the nation's Midwest to escape the rise of racial discrimination and violence in the South following the end of Reconstruction in 1877. After a brief period in the Oklahoma territory, the Butlers moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1904, before finally settling in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1909.

In Hutchinson Butler began to participate in football and track ...


Kimberly Cheek

track-and-field athlete, was born John Wesley Carlos in Harlem, New York, the youngest of five children of Earl Vanderbilt Carlos, a cobbler, and Vioris Carlos, a nurse's aide. Initially Carlos desired to become an Olympic swimmer, but few African Americans had access to suitable training facilities for those events. He was encouraged by local police officers to become involved in track and field and trained at the New York Pioneer Club. He competed for the first time when he represented the Machine Trade and Metal High School at the Penn Relays. During his senior year Carlos married Karen Benjamin Groce on 29 February 1965 and with her had two children. Following high school he was awarded a full track-and-field scholarship to East Texas State University at Commerce.

In 1967 during his first year at East Texas State Carlos won the university s first Lone Star Conference title and ...


Leslie Heywood

track-and-field athlete, was the fifth of ten children born to Fred “Doc” and Evelyn Coachman in Albany, Georgia. She was primarily raised by her great-grandmother and maternal grandmother and endured the difficulties of impoverishment. As a child, she participated in music and dance and was active in sports. Like many other African American women, she competed in basketball and track in junior high, where she came to the attention of Coach Henry E. Lash at Madison High School.

It was at this point that Coachman made a leap and became part of what was fast becoming a track-and-field dynasty when she transferred to the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she was trained by the renowned coach Cleveland Abbott. Founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881 as a teacher s college Tuskegee was one of the first black institutions to embrace women s athletics and Abbott s team ...


Hilary Mac Austin

Today, when black women dominate track-and-field events, it is difficult to remember that the first Olympic medal won by an African American woman was not awarded until after World War II. The first gold medal was won at the same Olympics; that medal went to Alice Coachman, a legendary high jumper from Tuskegee Institute.

Coachman was born (some sources say 1921 or 1922) near Albany, Georgia. She was one of ten children of Fred and Evelyn Coachman, who worked most days picking cotton. Sometimes her father traveled to Ohio to work as a plasterer, and sometimes her mother cleaned the houses of white families, but usually the entire family worked in the fields at nearby plantations.

Coachman started her jumping career on the red clay roads of Georgia The children would tie rags together and appoint one child to hold each end of the homemade rope Then they ...


Paul T. Murray

long-distance runner and physical therapist, was born Theodore Corbitt near Dunbarton, South Carolina, to John Henry Corbitt, a farmer and railroad worker, and Alma Bing Corbitt, a seamstress and union official. Though small in stature, the young Corbitt helped on the family farm, plowing and picking crops, forging a work ethic that would become the trademark of his athletic career. While white children rode the bus, Corbitt walked the dusty roads back and forth to school. At age nine his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he won his first races in school competitions. He graduated from Cincinnati's Woodward High School in 1938 and enrolled in University of Cincinnati that fall. There he joined the track and cross-country teams, trying every running event from 100 yards to two miles. He graduated in 1942 with a degree in Education Corbitt was drafted into the U S Army and ...


Adam W. Green

was the second child born to John Davis and Mary Alice Davis in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. After his older brother died of diphtheria, Davis was raised by his maternal grandmother, Carrie Faton, and aunt Matilda Daniel. Davis found sports as a means of rescue from the cruelty of the Jim Crow South, where he wasn’t allowed to attend the regular movie theater, and where he witnessed Ku Klux Klan marches and cross-burnings while still a child.

Despite living two blocks from Tuscaloosa High School for whites only, segregation forced Davis to cross the tracks to go to the all-black Industrial High School (later Druid). He played basketball and football at Druid, and after graduating in 1950 volunteered for the Air Force where he served four years Stationed in England Davis began training more seriously at the gym gaining weight and athletic skill he became a first string player for the ...


Sibyl Collins Wilson

track-and-field sprinter and hurdler, philanthropist, and health advocate, was born Yolanda Gail Devers in Seattle, Washington, to Adele Devers, a teacher's aide, and Larry Devers, a Baptist minister. While she was still young, the family relocated to National City, a suburb of San Diego, California. As a young girl she used to bite her nails, prompting her father to issue a challenge encouraging her not to perpetuate that habit. This resulted in her growing her nails, which ultimately became so long that they became her signature style. Devers would later alter her starting position at track meets to accommodate her long nails.

Motivated by competition with her brother Parenthesis also known as P D Devers developed an interest in running P D would dare her to race and then tease her after each loss which pushed her to develop the drive to eventually beat him It was ...


Richard Sobel

first African American Ivy League head coach, 1984 U.S. Olympic men's track-and-field team head coach, and president of USA Track & Field from 1992 to 1996, was born Lawrence Thomas Ellis in Englewood, New Jersey. With two older sisters, Virginia Robinson and Theresa Brisbane, Ellis grew up in the Bronx in New York City, on a street known for its gangs. His parents, Henry Ellis, a tailor, and Anna Wright Hart, a Macy's saleswoman and a child's nurse, separated during his youth and Ellis worked part-time jobs in order to help make ends meet. Ellis's mother and the late Rev. Edler Hawkins, a Presbyterian minister, were positive influences in his younger years. “Basically, I was a good kid,” he explained. “I joined the Boy Scouts. I played ball in the street, touch football (Alfano, New York Times, Apr. 1984 section 5 1 For ...


SaFiya D. Hoskins

athlete, Olympic medalist, was born Aeriwentha Mae Faggs in Mays Landing, New Jersey, the second of five children and the only daughter of William and Hepsi Faggs. Her father was a factory worker; her mother was employed in a musical instrument plant making needles, she also worked as a domestic. Faggs was in elementary school when began running track and continued to run as a student at Bayside High School in Bayside, Long Island. In 1947, at age fifteen, she became a member of the Police Athletic League (PAL) girl's track team from the 11th Precinct in Bayside, Long Island. The same year, Faggs joined the newly formed Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in Bayside, created for exceptional runners from all over the city by Sergeant John Brennan who became her coach and mentor During her tenure with AAU her strength and speed grew and she ...


Tracey M. Ober

Born in Casa Verde, a suburb of São Paulo, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva came from a humble background, the only child of a railroad worker and a cook. A friend introduced him to the world of sports when he was almost nineteen years old and by the following year he already held the Brazilian and South American record in the triple jump. At twenty-one, he competed in his first Olympic Games, finishing eighth place in London in 1948. He matched the world record—then 16 meters—in 1950 and set a new record of 16.01m in 1951. A year later at the Helsinki Games, Ferreira da Silva broke his own world record twice on the same day, jumping 16.12m and 16.22m, and winning the gold medal. Ferreira da Silva set a new world record of 16.56m in 1955 and earned a second gold medal at the Melbourne Games in 1956 ...


Kate Tuttle

Frankie Fredericks was a talented athlete as a youth, but he never expected to be in the Olympic Games. Until 1990 his country, Namibia, was a colony of South Africa, which had been banned from Olympic competition because of its policy of Apartheid. Yet Fredericks, who has become one of the world’s premiere sprinters, has brought four Olympic medals home to Namibia.

An only child, Fredericks was raised by his mother in Katutura township, just outside the Namibian capital, Windhoek His mother worked several jobs to send Fredericks to private schools where he excelled in both soccer and academics In high school he started running track specializing in sprinting He won both the 100 and 200 meter races in the South African school championships his senior year After graduating Fredericks passed up several college scholarship offers to accept a management training position with the Rossing Uranium ...


Jerome Teelucksingh

track‐and‐field star, was born in Kansas City, Kansas, the youngest of four children of Ernest Greene and Jackie. Maurice began participating in track events while he was a fourth grader at Quindaro Elementary School. His first race was in the All City Competition, where he won the first-place blue ribbon in three events, the 50 meters, the 100 meters, and the eraser shuttle. At Colonado Middle School, Maurice ran the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and the 4¥100 meter relay. He admired the athletic feats of his older brother Ernest Greene, whose track career, though less prominent, included specialization in the 100 meters and the 200 meters.

Greene attended Schlagle High School in his hometown where he participated and excelled in track and football At the prestigious Kansas State competitions Greene won the 100 meters and the 200 meters for the first time In the summer he ran for ...


Marty Dobrow

track star, was born Delorez Florence Griffith in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Robert Griffith, an electronics technician, and Florence Griffith, a seamstress. The seventh of eleven children, her parents divorced when she was four. Dee-Dee, as she was then known, grew up in a housing project in Watts, the site of race riots in the late 1960s. She described her family life as inwardly rich, though money was so tight she sometimes ate oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She developed her fashion sense from her mother, who taught her knitting and crocheting, and her grandmother, a beautician, who provided instruction on hair and nails. Though she was a quiet child, her fashion tastes betrayed a nonconformist streak: a gravity-defying braid thrust to the heavens in kindergarten, a pet boa constrictor wrapped around her neck as a teen.

Her speed was apparent at a young age ...


Teresa Gilliams

track and field athlete, was born Clyston Orlando Holman III in Indianapolis, Indiana, the elder of the two sons of Clyston Orlando Holman Jr., a Baptist minister, and Janet Mullins, a high school guidance counselor. In 1972, when Steve was two, the Holmans moved from Indianapolis to Richfield, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. Steve's early childhood was marked by his tendency to run fast—in the house, outside with his friends (despite outrunning them), and to the local corner store.

He received his early education in the public schools of Richfield, Windom, and Elliot elementary schools, East Middle School, and Richfield Junior High School. As a freshman at Richfield High School, Steve, at five feet three inches and ninety pounds, ran cross-country and later track, winning the Minnesota high school state titles in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs in both 1987 and 1988. In 1988 ...


John A. Lucas

the first African American to win an individual Olympic Games gold medal, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of William A. Hubbard. Olympic historians know nothing of his father's occupation nor his mother's full name at the time of her marriage. After excelling in both academics and athletics at Walnut Hills High School between 1918 and 1921, Hubbard entered the University of Michigan. As a freshman he tied the school record in the 50-yard dash, set a school record of 24 feet 63⁄4 inches in the long jump, and won two U.S. National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championships in the long jump (24 feet 51⁄2 inches) and triple jump (48 feet 11⁄2 inches). He won All-American honors in 1922, and until his graduation in 1925, his exploits reserved for him recognition as the greatest combination sprinter-jumper of the 1920s.

Hubbard was a compact 150 ...