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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 ...

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

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born Jane Kimberly Batten, in McRae, Georgia, the daughter of Ella Jean Batten. In 1976 her family moved to Rochester, New York, where she participated in basketball, track and field, and volleyball at the city’s East High School. Principally a long and triple jumper on the track and field team, Batten also competed in the 400-meter hurdles, posting times of 61.1 seconds in 1986 and 60.94 seconds in 1987. She graduated East High in 1987, ranked third in the nation in the triple jump.

Recruited by several colleges to compete in the triple jump, Batten selected Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee. For the Seminoles, she competed in the 100, 200, and 400 meters; 100- and 400-meter hurdles; long jump and triple jump; and the 4 × 100- and 4 × 400-meter relays. Indoors in 1988 Batten finished thirteenth in the triple jump at the National ...

Article

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 ...

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

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 ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born in East Orange, New Jersey, the eldest of the two children of Jetta Clark and Dr. Joe Louis Clark. The Clarks lived in Newark, a short distance from her birthplace, until moving to South Orange after the 1967 riots. Her father, who served as the principal of Eastside High School, in Paterson, New Jersey, gained national attention for enforcing discipline and improving academic achievement at Eastside, one of the state’s toughest inner-city schools, and became the subject of the 1989 film Lean on Me, in which the award-winning actor Morgan Freeman portrayed him.

Clark performed with the Alvin Ailey Junior Dance Company until the age of fourteen, when she began to participate in track, concentrating on the half-mile (880 yards), the distance at which her father excelled at William Patterson University (then known as the Paterson State Teachers College) in Wayne, New Jersey. Interviewed for the Best ...

Article

was born William D. Davenport in Troy, Alabama. He was the oldest in a family of seven children. In 1952 his family moved to Warren, Ohio. One of the few African American students at Howland High School in Warren, Davenport recalled being “a loner with a sour attitude” until achieving success in athletics (Encyclopedia of Alabama). He competed in all sports, especially loved baseball, but found his niche in track and field. Initially a 100-yard-dash man, Davenport turned his attention to the 120-yard high hurdles during his junior year, an event in which he won the Howland Local School District title in 1960. As a senior he established a high school record of 14.2 seconds in the 120-yard high hurdles.

After graduating high school in 1961, Davenport enlisted in the United Sates Army. Stationed in Mainz, West Germany from 1961 to 1963 he became a ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Azeddine Chergui

Moroccan track and field athlete, was born in Berkane, Morocco, on 14 September 1974. In a land where soccer is the national sport, El Guerrouj first tried his athletic skills as a goalkeeper but, because of his mother’s objection to the dirty laundry he brought home from practice, he abandoned soccer for the next best thing, track and field athletics. He was only ten when, like millions of his countrymen, he watched Said Aouita and Nawal Almoutawakil win the first gold medals in Morocco’s history at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Motivated by the achievements of these two national icons, he took up cross-country running to become the greatest middle-distance runner of all time and “King of the Mile.” In 1991 he left school and turned professional by joining the National Athletics Institute in the capital city of Rabat At the age of eighteen he attained his ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Haile Gebrselassie was born in Arssi, Ethiopia. As a child, he ran barefoot to and from school each day—a round trip of 25 km (15 mi). This was good training for his future career as one of the world’s best runners. Like his brother before him, Gebrselassie began running competitively as a teenager. In 1992 he won both the 5000-m and 10,000-m races at the World Junior Championships. The next year, competing against adults for the first time, he won the 10,000-m and finished second in the 5000-m in the World Championships. In 1996 Gebrselassie not only won the 5000-m event in the World Indoor Championships, he also set an indoor world record, the first Ethiopian to do so. He followed that feat by winning a gold medal in the 10,000-m at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, setting a new Olympic record.

Treated to a victory parade ...

Article

Antje Daub

athlete, scholar, soldier, and judge, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, one of nine children of Walter Holmes Gourdin, a meat cutter and part Seminole Indian, and Felicia Nee, an African American woman who was a housekeeper. Little is known about his early school career, other than that he was valedictorian of his high school class in 1916. Although poor, Gourdin's parents recognized their son's talents and educational potential and, following his high school graduation, moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to further his career. There, Gourdin attended Cambridge High and Latin, which helped prepare him for the high academic demands of an Ivy League education.

By the time he enrolled in his freshman year at Harvard in 1917 Gourdin appears to have been a conscientious and responsible student To pay tuition he supported himself by working as a postal clerk He also became a ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born James Ray Hines in Dumas, Arkansas, the ninth of twelve children of Charlie Hines and Minnie West Hines. In 1952 the Hines family moved to Oakland, California, where his father worked in construction and his mother in a cannery. At Oakland’s Lowell Junior High School, Hines played center field on the baseball team; his speed at that position impressed Jim Coleman, the McClymonds High School track and field coach, who asked him to join the track team. Once at McClymonds, Hines began specializing in the 100- and 220-yard dashes. Undefeated throughout his high school career at both distances, he clocked 9.7 seconds in the 100 yards as a sophomore, and improved to 9.4 as a senior, to earn a share of the national high school record. Graduating high school in 1964, Hines ranked as the nation’s top high school sprinter.

Hines earned an athletic scholarship to run ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born George Lawrence James in Mount Pleasant, New York, the son of Martha James; his father’s name is unrecorded. James began participating in track and field in seventh grade and continued at White Plains High School in White Plains, New York. Coached by Ed Kehe, he demonstrated all-around ability in the sport, especially in the 180-yard low hurdles, 330-yard intermediate hurdles, 220- and 440-yard dashes, and the triple jump. In 1966 James won the 180-yard low hurdles at the New York Public School State Championships and belonged to the 880-yard and mile-relay teams which established national high school records of 1:24.5 and 3:12.7 respectively.

After graduating high school in 1966, James entered Villanova University near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ineligible to compete as a freshman, he debuted as a sophomore indoors at the 1968 Millrose Games in New York City s Madison Square Garden James won the 500 yard ...

Article

Greta Koehler

track-and-field athlete, was born in Virginia. The names of his parents and their occupations are unknown. He grew up in suburban Philadelphia and later moved to Plymouth, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining region during the Great Depression, with his family.

Johnson started his track-and-field career as a junior at Plymouth High School, where he won the 100- and 220-yard dashes in state record times, 9.8 seconds and 21.4 seconds, respectively, in 1932 He won state titles that same year in the 100 and 220 yard dashes and the long jump and qualified himself for the Olympic Trials in California When his parents did not have the resources for him to make the trip the town raised the necessary money Johnson finished fourth in his semifinal In Johnson s senior year the state did not hold a state meet because of the Depression not giving Johnson the chance to compete at ...

Article

Courtney Q. Shah

athlete and philanthropist. Jacqueline Joyner was named for the first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and her great- grandmother predicted that someday she would be the “first lady of something.” She was born in East Saint Louis, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from Saint Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Mary, was sixteen when she first became pregnant by her fourteen-year-old boyfriend, Alfred Joyner. The two secretly married, but they were thrown out of their homes when Mary became pregnant with their second child, Jacqueline. Alfred Joyner attempted to finish high school and find work while Mary cared for the children.

The Joyners cramped house lacked proper heating in the winter so Jackie spent much of her time at the Mary E Brown Community Center taking dance lessons cheerleading or participating in athletics She joined the track club it was led by Nino Fennoy who encouraged her to use athletics ...

Article

As a boy growing up in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Alberto Juantorena excelled in Basketball. After he was sent 800 kilometers (500 miles) from his hometown to attend Havana's Higher School of Athletic Improvement, a track coach noticed Juantorena running laps with the basketball team and told the athlete that his future lay in track. Juantorena soon found that no one could keep up with him in the 400-meter race.

Juantorena met Irria Cardova, a gymnast, at the school and later the couple married. Like many of Cuba's top athletes, Juantorena enrolled in the University of Havana's Institute for Physical Culture and kept his student status throughout most of his international career. Although Juantorena had focused his training on the 400-meter dash, only a few months before the 1976 Olympics in Montréal Canada he was told he would represent his country in the 800 meter race ...