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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 ...

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Gerald Early

Despite the considerable achievements of such important African American athletes as Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Wilma Rudolph, Jim Brown, and Jackie Robinson, the young brash prizefighter from Louisville, Kentucky, may very well have eclipsed their significance. He surely eclipsed their fame as, at the height of his career in the early and middle 1970s, Muhammad Ali was, without question, the most famous African American in history and among the five most recognized faces on the planet.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in 1942 (named after both his father and the famous Kentucky abolitionist), the gregarious, handsome, and extraordinarily gifted boxer garnered world attention by winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. He further stunned the sports world by beating the heavily favored Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight title in 1964 and shocked white America by announcing right after that fight that ...

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David K. Wiggins

Born as Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, Muhammad Ali first gained international attention when he won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Rome Olympics. In 1964 he captured the heavyweight championship for the first time in a surprising sixth-round technical knockout of Sonny Liston. Shortly after that fight, Ali announced that he had joined the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims), the black separatist religious group led by Elijah Muhammad. Ali's religious conversion provoked much controversy in America, especially among whites who abhorred his membership in a group that spoke of “white devils” and the superiority of the black race. He further infuriated many Americans when he refused induction into the armed forces in 1967, during the Vietnam War, on religious grounds. His stand resulted in the revoking of his heavyweight crown and conviction for draft evasion. In 1970 the U S Supreme ...

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John Gennari

As the dominant heavyweight boxer of the 1960s and 1970s, Muhammad Ali won an Olympic gold medal, captured the professional world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions, and successfully defended his title nineteen times. Ali's extroverted, colorful style, both in and out of the ring, heralded a new mode of media-conscious athletic celebrity. Through his bold assertions of black pride, his conversion to the Muslim faith, and his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, Ali became a highly controversial figure during the turbulent 1960s. At the height of his fame, Ali was described as “the most recognizable human being on earth.”

Ali's 1981 retirement from boxing did not diminish his status as an international public figure. Despite suffering from Parkinson's disease, Ali remained on the world stage as an adherent of the Nation of Islam an advocate of children and war victims and a proponent of international understanding ...

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Gerald Early

world champion boxer and political activist, was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, Kentucky, the eldest of two sons raised by Cassius Clay Sr., a sign painter and something of a frustrated artist, and Odessa Grady, a domestic. Young Clay began to take boxing lessons at the age of twelve because someone had stolen his bicycle and he was determined to exact revenge against the perpetrators. He never discovered who stole his bike, but he did blossom as a young fighter, taking instruction from the Louisville policeman Joe Martin. His brother, Rudolph Arnette Clay (Rudolph Valentino Clay in some sources and later Rahaman Ali), also took up boxing, but, lacking his brother's talent, never became a significant presence in the sport.

Clay became a gym rat feeling that he could succeed in boxing as he never could in school Although he showed no special ability in his ...

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Luther Adams

boxer, civil rights activist. Perhaps one of the most recognized people in the world, Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. to Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr. and Odessa (Grady) Clay in Louisville, Kentucky. He was named in honor of his father and the white Kentucky abolitionist Cassius M. Clay. Clay attended the all-black Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky, graduating 376th out of a senior class of 391. Ali has been married four times: to Sonji Roi, Kalilah Tolona (formerly Belinda Boyd), Veronica Porsche, and Yolanda Ali. He has been married to Yolanda since 1986, and has seven daughters and two sons, including Laila Ali, a boxer in her own right.

Article

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 ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Honored in 1979 and 1981 as Woman Athlete of the Year, Evelyn Ashford was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. She grew up in Roseville, California, where her high school invited her to join its all-male track-and-field team after she outran some of the male athletes. Ashford then attended the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) on an athletic scholarship. During her college years, from 1975 through 1978, she trained as a sprinter, a fast runner over short distances. She won four national collegiate running championships and also competed in her first Olymic Games, held in Montreal, Canada, in 1976.

In 1978 Ashford became a fulltime athlete, winning World Cup titles in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints the following year. She could not compete in the 1980 Olympics which were held in Russia then the Soviet Union because the United States decided to boycott the games that ...

Article

Dolph Grundman

basketball player and track athlete, was born Donald Angelo Barksdale in Oakland, California, the son of Agee Barksdale, a Pullman porter, and Desiree Barksdale, a homemaker. Barksdale grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood and played sports as a youngster at San Pablo Park, just four blocks from his home. Dutch Redquist, the director of the playground, helped him develop his skills. Jackie Robinson, the great UCLA athlete who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, visited the park and became another of Barksdale's mentors. Barksdale also accompanied his father to meetings of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters where he listened to black activists such as A. Philip Randolph.

While Barksdale was a gifted athlete he never played high school basketball The Berkeley High School basketball coach refused to have more than one black player on the team so Barksdale who entered high school in ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born Ato Jabari Boldon on 30 December 1973 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He is one of two sons of Guy and Hope Boldon. His father is Trinidadian and his mother is Jamaican. Bolden attended Fatima College, a Catholic boy’s secondary school in Port of Spain, until the family immigrated to Queens, New York, in 1988. He played soccer at Jamaica High School in Queens. His coach, Joe Trupiano, recognized Boldon’s running ability and encouraged him to try out for the track team. In 1990 he clocked 10.8 seconds for 100 meters, 21.4 seconds for 200 meters, and 48.5 seconds for 400 meters. He won the 200 and 400 at the Queens County Championships, and finished third in the 200 at the New York State Championships. Later that year, he moved with his mother to San Jose, California. In 1991 the Piedmont Hills High School ...

Article

slalom kayaker and first Togolese winner of an Olympic medal, was born in Lagny-Sur-Marne, France, on 4 August 1981. The son of a Togolese father and a French mother, he grew up in the department of Seine et Marne near Paris. When he was only ten years old, his parents introduced him to the sport of slalom kayaking. They placed their son in a kayak club in their hometown of Lagny-Sur-Marne. He passed his baccalaureate examinations and chose to turn his love for kayaking into a career. Boukpeti excelled at this sport, to the point that he was selected to join a training center in the French city of Toulouse. He also commenced his undergraduate studies in biology, and he received an undergraduate degree in cellular biology and animal physiology from Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse.

He first entered international competition at the 16th annual world kayaking championship in ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born in Greenwood, Mississippi. Valerie Ann Brisco is the sixth of ten children of Arguster and Guitherea Brisco. In 1965 the Brisco family moved from rural Mississippi to Los Angeles. Brisco’s older brothers, Robert and Melvin Brisco, ran track at Alain Leroy Locke Senior High School in South Los Angeles. Late one afternoon in 1974, after completing their workout on the Locke track, stray gunfire from rival gangs struck and killed Robert. His death at Locke was ironic since the high school had been established in 1967, after the Watts riots of 1965, to provide South Los Angeles families a safe and secure place for their children to learn. Robert’s death motivated Brisco to run track at Locke, especially after she outran the fastest girl on the track team in physical education class. In 1977 she recorded times of 11 00 seconds for 100 yards ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

track and field athlete, Olympic decathlon champion, professional football player, community organizer, and motivational speaker, was born on 9 December 1933, in Plainfield, New Jersey. Milton Gray Campbell was the second of three children of Thomas and Edith Campbell. His father worked as a taxi cab driver and his mother as a domestic. At Plainfield High School Campbell excelled in football, track and field, and swimming. In his junior year he competed in the 100 meters and the 110-meter high hurdles at the 1952 United States Olympic Trials finishing sixth in the second semifinal heat of the 100 meters and fifth in the finals of the 110 meter high hurdles Later that summer Campbell competed in the Amateur Athletic Union AAU Decathlon National Championships which also served as the Olympic Trials for the two day ten event contest In his first attempt at ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born Henry William Carr in Montgomery, Alabama, the ninth of twelve children. The names of his parents are not recorded, but at some point in Carr’s early life the family moved to Detroit, Michigan, which many sources give as his place of birth. As a student at Detroit’s Northwestern High School, he participated in basketball, football, and track and field. Undefeated in track and field, Carr specialized in the 220-yard dash, which then was contested on a straight track. Although his best legal time for the distance was 20.6 seconds, he recorded a wind-aided time of 20.0 seconds on 8 May 1961. Carr graduated from high school in 1961 with personal best times of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard dash and 47.8 in the 440-yard dash. His best performance in the long jump measured 23 feet, 4½ inches.

After graduating high school Carr accepted an athletic scholarship to ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born on 9 October 1900 in Cavaillon, Haiti. His name is sometimes recorded as Sylvio. Information about his family and early life is not known, but by the early 1920s he was one of the country’s leading soccer players, appearing for Trivoli Athletic Club and Racing Club Haitian, as well as the Haitian national team.

Cator excelled, however, in track and field, especially the long jump, in which he represented Haiti three times at the Olympic Games. At the 1924 Games in Paris France he competed in both the high jump and the long jump In the high jump Cator cleared 1 75 meters 5 feet 9 inches in the qualifying round but failed to advance to the finals finishing in a tie for fifteenth in the overall standings Entering the long jump competition with a personal best of 7 43 meters 24 feet 4½ inches the Haitian ...

Article

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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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 ...

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Kathryn Mathers

Zimbabwean swimmer and Olympic gold medal winner, was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, on 16 September 1983. Kirsty attended the Harare Dominican Convent High School. Her parents, Rob and Lyn Coventry, own the Harare-based household chemical company, Omnichem. In 1989 six-year-old Kirsty, who had been taught to swim by her mother, was breaking records at the Highlands Swimming Club. At ten she was a dominant swimmer for Pirates Swimming Club under the coaching of Charles Mathieson. Kirsty was recruited by Kim Bracken for the Auburn University swimming team in Alabama. By December 2010 Kirsty Coventry had won seven Olympic medals, the most individual medals for an African athlete.

Kirsty was nominated as Zimbabwe’s National Sports’ person of the year in 1999 when she represented her country at the All-Africa Games in Johannesburg. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney she was the first Zimbabwean to reach a semifinal in any ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born on 16 August 1950, in Marabella, San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago. Hasely Joachim Crawford was the seventh of Lionel and Phyllis Crawford’s eleven children. At age 10, he joined the Brooklyn Sports Club and began running under the guidance of Zeno Constance, a former national athlete. After the death of his father in 1965, Crawford participated in sports sparingly, entering the San Fernando Technical Institute to study machine shop. After graduating from the Institute in 1968, he was hired by the Swan Hunter Company in Port of Spain, where he worked as a machinist fashioning parts for pipe-fitting machinery, and Texaco, in Pointe-a-Pierre. At Texaco, Crawford joined the company’s sports club, coached by Wilton Jackson, who recognized his sprinting ability. In 1970 he finished fifth in the 100 meters in the Central American and Caribbean Championships in Panama City and won the bronze medal ...