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Born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Zola Budd was seventeen years of age in 1984 when she set an unofficial world record for the 5000-meter race with a time of 15 minutes, 1.83 seconds. At that time South Africa was barred from international sport because of its policy of Apartheid, so Budd adopted British citizenship in order to qualify for the 1984 Olympic Games. This move caused a good deal of controversy because it allowed a white South African athlete to defy the ban and appear in international competitions. At the 1984 Games Budd gained international attention when in the last lap of the 3000 meter race American runner Mary Decker Slaney the world record holder in the 3000 meter and the favorite to win tripped on Budd s foot and fell Both Budd and Decker Slaney finished out of the medals Budd initially received much of the ...

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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 ...

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Martha Saavedra

Ethiopian long-distance runner, and the first sub-Saharan African woman to win an Olympic gold medal, was born on 21 March 1972 in Bekoji 80 miles 130 kilometers south of Addis Ababa Ethiopia Like many in their community her father Tulu and her mother Derartu Kenene were farmers who raised cows sheep and horses Despite a population of only 30 thousand Bekoji in the Arsi zone in the central Ethiopia highlands at an altitude of 9 800 feet 3 000 meters is also the birthplace of many successful distance runners from Ethiopia These include Kenenisa Bekele and Derartu s younger cousin Tirunesh Dibaba 2008 Olympic 5 000 10 000 meter and multiple World Cross Country women s champion Like the majority of the country s elite runners as well as athletes in other sports in Ethiopia Derartu is from the Oromo ethnic group A study of Ethiopian national senior and ...

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Monique M. Chism

Named the “World’s Fastest Woman” after winning the gold medal for the 100-meter dash at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Gail Yolanda Devers endlessly proved she was a super athlete who overcame a number of hurdles throughout her life.

Daughter of the Reverend Larry Devers, a Baptist minister, and Alabe Devers, a teacher’s aide, she was born in Seattle, Washington. The family eventually settled in National City, California, a small town near San Diego. Devers’s interest in running began when she was a little girl, fueled in part by her desire to beat her brother, Parenthesis, in races. Her enthusiasm for the sport and commitment to self-improvement continued through high school, where she won numerous awards. Upon graduation, she decided to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. At UCLA, under the tutelage of coach Bob Kersee ...

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Haggai Erlich

Ethiopian long-distance track and road runner, was born on 18 April 1973 in Arsi Province in southern Ethiopia to a family of ten children. His village of Asella had no electricity and no running water. At the age of five, he began studying in a school some six miles (ten kilometers) from his home, a distance he ran twice a day. His later distinctive, majestically straight running posture, with his left arm somewhat passive and slightly bent, was shaped by years of running while holding his schoolbooks. His father, he testified, was a natural athlete; and the altitude of Arsi Province, some 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level, proved an ideal breeding ground for great runners, like Kenenisa Bekele, who would in time break many of Gebrselassie’s records, and Tirunesh Dibaba, women’s world and Olympic champion.

Gebrselassie began competing on the national level at the age of fifteen He ...

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Margaret D. Costa

Florence Griffith Joyner, or “Flo-Jo,” lived her life with all the razzle and dazzle appropriate for a superstar athlete and entrepreneur. As the fastest woman in the world, she demonstrated that beauty, along with athletic speed and strength, could be a winning combination both on and off the track.

Delorez Florence Griffith was born in Los Angeles’ Jordan housing projects in 1959, and killed by an epileptic seizure in September 1998. She was the seventh of eleven children of seamstress Florence Griffith. Her parents divorced when she was four years old. Griffith Joyner began running track at the age of seven in a program at the Sugar Ray Robinson Foundation in Los Angeles. At fourteen and fifteen she won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games Award and, while attending Los Angeles’ Jordan High School, set records in the sprint and long jump. In 1979 Joyner enrolled at ...

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Jane D. Adair and Margaret D. Costa

As she ran a victory lap at the 1992 Summer Olympic games, the tall Illinois native was told by Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, “You’re the greatest athlete in the world.” Seven times in the history of the Olympic Games a woman has scored more than 7,000 points in the challenging and grueling heptathlon. Six of those times, the woman was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who scored 7,291 points in the heptathlon in 1988 and 7,044 points in 1992, earning an Olympic record.

Jacqueline Joyner was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. Joyner’s grandmother insisted that the child be named after First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy because “some day this girl will be the first lady of something.” Her parents, Alfred and Mary Joyner were seventeen and nineteen years old and had been married for three years Life was difficult for the teenaged parents Mary Joyner worked as a ...

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Martha Saavedra

Ethiopian distance runner, was born on 13 June 1982 in the town of Bekoji, in Arsi Zone, Oromi Region of Ethiopia. He was the second son of Bekele Bayicha, a successful farmer and Kuli Megerssa, Bayicha’s third wife. His father, who was fifty-six at his son’s birth, chose the name “Kenenisa” which in the Oromo language means “you brought me delight.” He has two sisters and three brothers, one of whom, Tariku (b. 28 February 1987), is also a distance runner.

He preferred football when younger but was inspired by local runners Haile Gebrselassie Derartu Tulu and Fatuma Roba to take up athletics Gebrselassie eventually became his mentor Like many other runners from his hometown he was first coached by Sentayehu Eshetu at Bekoji Elementary School His father however was not pleased preferring his son to concentrate on his education With early victories and evidence of his religious commitment his ...

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David K. Wiggins

track and field athlete,-was born Frederick Carlton Lewis in Birmingham, Alabama, the third of four children of William Lewis and Evelyn Lawler, both of them teachers and coaches who had been outstanding athletes themselves at Tuskegee Institute. Lewis's father was an excellent pass receiver in football and sprinter in track and field, while his mother was a nationally ranked hurdler who was expected to compete in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki before an injury cut short her career.

In 1963 Lewis's parents, after brief stints as teachers in Montgomery, Alabama, following their graduation from Tuskegee Institute, moved the family to Willingboro, New Jersey, to further their professional careers and improve their social and economic positions. It was in Willingboro that Lewis honed his enormous physical talents and first garnered national attention for his exploits in track and field. Training alongside his sister Carol who became a ...

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David Lucander

football player, was born James David Lofton in Fort Ord, California, the son of Michael Lofton and his wife, whose name is unknown. Indeed very little is known about his parents or his early life. James was an all-city quarterback at George Washington High School in Los Angeles before blossoming into an academic All-American at Stanford University, where in 1978 he earned a bachelor's degree in Engineering. Prior to establishing himself as a premier wide receiver under the tutelage of Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh during his senior year, Lofton was also a top-notch track-and-field athlete. He won the long jump with a record-setting twenty-seven-foot leap as a senior at the 1978 NCAA Track-and-Field Championships. He had previously won the long jump at the 1974 California State Track and Field Championships Although Lofton s outstanding leaping ability helped him become one of the NFL s top wide ...

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David L. Porter

track-and-field athlete and U.S. congressman, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Clarence Metcalfe, a stockyard worker, and Marie Attaway, a seamstress. He moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1917, grew up in a slum area on the South Side, and attended Tilden Technical High School. Metcalfe won the 1929 interscholastic track-and-field sprint championship and, as a member of the Chase Athletic Club, captured the 1930 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) junior 100-yard title in 9.7 seconds.

A 5-foot 11-inch, 180-pound speedster, Metcalfe attended Marquette University, breezing through the 1932 track-and-field season undefeated in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes and taking both events at the NCAA and AAU championships. That same year Metcalfe dethroned Eddie Tolan as the dominant American sprinter. On 11 June he tied Tolan s world mark in the 100 yard dash and shattered the world record in the 220 yard dash ...

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Martha Saavedra

Mozambican athlete and philanthropist, was born on 27 October 1972 in Maputo, Mozambique. One of the most accomplished athletes ever, Mutola maintained a dominating presence for two decades in her event, the 800-meter foot race, a race of speed and endurance. Her achievements include Mozambique’s first Olympic gold medal, three world championships, and seven world indoor championships. Number seventeen on the all-time list for the 800—only seven women have run faster—it was her consistency in winning that cemented her reputation. Fittingly, she went undefeated in 2003 in six track meets to become the first athlete to win the $1 million International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) Golden League Jackpot. She retired in 2008 after competing in her sixth Olympics and one final Golden League meet in Zurich. Like many other elite athletes, she has used her fame and earnings for social projects, particularly through her foundation in Mozambique.

Had professional ...

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Donald Roe

The first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. From modest beginnings, the Olympics, which now consist of winter games and summer games held every four years, have become perhaps the greatest spectacle in sports. Pierre de Courbertin (1863–1937), a French aristocrat and the driving force behind reviving the ancient Greek games, was instrumental in creating the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to oversee the Olympics. From their inception, the modern Olympics have been colored by international politics. Nonetheless, the games have survived nationalism, boycotts, athletes’ using performance-enhancing drugs, and terrorism. Along the way, African American athletes have played a significant role in making the Summer Olympics Games an international spectacle.

Few African American athletes participated in the Olympics during the early years of their revival Racism and segregation hampered the creation of programs in track and field and other sports for ...

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James Cleveland Owens was born in Oakville, Alabama, the tenth of eleven children of Henry and Emma Fitzgerald Owens, who earned their livelihood as sharecroppers. As a child Jesse Owens was chronically ill, probably because of poor diet, substandard housing, and inadequate clothing. During several winters he contracted pneumonia, which he was forced to endure since his family lacked money for a doctor or medicine. In the early 1920s the Owens family left the South as part of the Great Migration, and settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where Owens's father and three brothers found work in the steel mills. For the first time Owens attended school regularly.

In a racially integrated junior high school, a white physical education teacher named Charles Riley noticed Owens s athletic ability and began coaching him in track and field After Owens entered a vocational high school Riley continued to coach him ...

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William J. Baker

Olympic track champion, was born James Cleveland Owens in Oakville, Alabama, the son of Henry Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald, sharecroppers. Around 1920 the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where the nickname “Jesse” originated when a schoolteacher mispronounced his drawled “J. C.” A junior high school teacher of physical education, Charles Riley, trained Owens in manners as well as athletics, preparing him to set several interscholastic track records in high school. In 1932 the eighteen-year-old Owens narrowly missed winning a place on the U.S. Olympic team. Enrolling in 1933 at Ohio State University, Owens soared to national prominence under the tutelage of the coach Larry Snyder. As a sophomore at the Big Ten championships, held on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan, on 25 May 1935 he broke world records in the 220 yard sprint the 220 yard hurdles and the long ...

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John M. Carroll

football player and coach, was born Frederick Douglass Pollard in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John William Pollard, a barber, and Catherine Amanda Hughes, a seamstress. Pollard grew up in the all-white Rogers Park section of Chicago, where his family was grudgingly accepted. He was nicknamed Fritz by the neighborhood's many German-speaking residents.

Following the example set by his father, who had gained a boxing reputation in the Union army, and by his older brothers and sisters, who were superb high school athletes, Pollard became a standout athlete in football, baseball, and track. During his senior year at Lane Technical High School (1911–1912) he was named to all-Cook County teams in track and football. Despite his small stature (5' 8”, 150 pounds), he used his speed and agility to score touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the Chicago area's best high school football players.

After ...

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Gaynol Langs

track-and-field athlete, was born Wilma Glodean Rudolph in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, the daughter of Edward Rudolph, a railroad porter, and Blanche (maiden name unknown), a domestic. Born nearly two months premature and weighing only four and a half pounds, Rudolph was a sickly child who contracted both double pneumonia and scarlet fever, which resulted in her left leg being partially paralyzed. Her doctors doubted that she would ever regain the use of her leg. Undaunted, Rudolph's mother made a ninety-mile bus trip once a week with her to Nashville, Tennessee, so she could receive heat, water, and massage treatments. At age five she began wearing a heavy steel brace and corrective shoes to help straighten her leg. After years of physical therapy, at age twelve she was finally able to move about without her leg brace.

When she entered a racially segregated high school in Clarksville Tennessee Rudolph ...

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Donald Roe

Olympic champion, teacher, and track coach. When sixteen-year-old Wilma Rudolph stepped onto the track in Melbourne, Australia, to compete in the 1956 Olympic Games, one could not have imagined the impact she would have on women's athletics. The tall, thin, African American woman with the disarming smile was a member of the United States’ women's 400-meter relay team that finished third to win the bronze medal. Winning an Olympic medal was a special achievement for Rudolph, but it was only the beginning. In the years from 1956 to 1962, she would rise Phoenix-like from anonymity to become one of the greatest female athletes of the twentieth century.

Wilma Rudolph was an unlikely candidate for fame. Born in Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee, on 23 June 1940 to Ed and Blanche Rudolph young Wilma was just another child to feed in a family of twenty two siblings trapped ...

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Brenda L. Meese

At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph made her mark in track when she became the first American woman ever to win three gold medals. That achievement established her as one of the outstanding female athletes in the world.

The twentieth of twenty-two children, Rudolph was born near Clarksville, Tennessee, to Ed and Blanche Rudolph. Polio had left Rudolph at four years old with little chance of ever walking, but with her family’s help she was able to discard her brace and corrective shoes by the time she was twelve years old. By age sixteen, six-foot-tall “Skeeter,” as she was nicknamed, had already been named an All-State player in basketball and won a bronze medal at the 1956 Olympics in the 4-by-100-meter relay. Just two years later, Rudolph believed her dreams of a college education and Olympic gold medal were over when she discovered she was pregnant.

With the ...

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Maureen M. Smith

Olympic track-and-field gold medalist and world record holder, was born in Clarksville, Texas, to James Richard, a sharecropper, and Dora Smith. Tommie, the seventh of twelve children, grew up on a farm where his family raised hogs and cows and picked cotton. Like many black Texans hoping to escape the misery of the Jim Crow South, the Smiths moved to the San Joaquin Valley of California and settled in Lemoore. There, Smith's athletic track career began in the fourth grade, when he raced the fastest kid at his school, his older sister, Sallie, and won. He struggled academically but nonetheless decided in the sixth grade that he wanted to be a teacher. Recognizing the lack of attention given to his own learning difficulties, he hoped that he might serve students more effectively.Smith grew rapidly as he entered his teenage years and he excelled ...