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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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


Adam R. Hornbuckle

track and field athlete, Olympic champion, coach, politician, sports administrator, was born on 15 April 1962, in Casablanca, Morocco. Her parents were employees of the Moroccan Bank of Foreign Trade. As a youngster El Moutawakel showed promise as a track and field athlete. Her father, Mohamed El Moutawakel, encouraged her to pursue her athletic interests while at the same time respecting and adhering to the values of traditional Moroccan society. From 1977 to 1981 she won scholastic and national titles in the 100, 200, and 400 meters.

El Moutawakel debuted internationally in 1981, representing Africa at the World Cup in Rome, Italy. She finished eighth in the 100 meters. The next year El Moutawakel finished second in the 100 meters and won the 100-meter high hurdles and 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the African Championships in Cairo, Egypt. In 1983 she won the ...


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 ...


Florence Griffith Joyner was born in Los Angeles, California. She came out of semiretirement in track to dominate the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. After capturing a silver medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1984 Games, Griffith Joyner worked as a customer service representative at a bank during the day and a hair stylist at night. In early 1987 she decided to return to competition and enlisted her former track coach at the University of California at Los Angeles, Bob Kersee, to help her train for the 1988 Olympic Games. Her husband, Al Joyner, winner of the 1984 Olympic gold medal in the triple jump and brother of heptathlon record-holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee, also coached Griffith Joyner.

Griffith Joyner's performance at the 1988 Olympic Games was motivated in part by a second-place finish at the 1987 World Championship Games in Rome Italy ...


Edward L. Lach

Griffith-Joyner, Florence (21 December 1959–21 September 1998), track and field star, was born Delorez Florence Griffith in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Robert Griffith, an electrician, and Florence Griffith (maiden name unknown), seamstress. When “Dee Dee” (as she was nicknamed) was four, her parents divorced and she moved with her mother and siblings to a housing project in the Watts section of Los Angeles. She began running while in elementary school at meets sponsored by the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, and by the age of fifteen she had won two consecutive Jesse Owens National Youth Games. As a member of an impoverished but disciplined family, Griffith learned from her grandmother how to style hair and fingernails, and she continued to excel in track and field at David Starr Jordan High School, from which she graduated in 1978.

In 1979 Griffith enrolled at California State University ...


Courtney Q. Shah

athlete and fashion designer.

Delorez Florence Griffith was born in Mojave, California, the seventh of eleven children. Legend has it that Griffith honed her sprinting skills at an early age chasing jackrabbits. When she was five years old, her mother left her father and relocated with the children to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Griffith took up competitive running at the age of seven, participating in the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation competitions. There she bested both boys and girls in her age group.

Griffith entered California State University in 1978. Despite good grades, she was forced to withdraw from college for financial reasons. Her coach, Bob Kersee, helped her apply for financial aid; receiving aid allowed her to resume her studies in 1980. In order to continue training with Kersee, she transferred to UCLA shortly after he was hired there. In 1982 she won the ...


LaTrese Evette Adkins

In the history of competitive track and field sports, the leadership and athleticism of Barbara J. Jacket are legendary. Barbara Jacket went to Barcelona, Spain, in 1992 as the second African American head coach of an Olympic U.S. women’s track and field team. The first was her mentor, Nell Jackson, at the 1956 Olympic games.

Jacket was born in Port Arthur, Texas, and raised along with her two siblings by their mother, Eva Getwood. A track and basketball star before entering college at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Jacket was later inducted into the Tuskegee Athletic Hall of Fame. Soon after she left college in 1965 Jacket assumed the job that would be hers for the next three decades She created and coached a women s track and field team at Prairie View A M University a historically black university in Prairie View Texas From that time ...


Joanna Davenport

Nell Cecilia Jackson, one of the pioneers in women’s track and field, was born in Athens, Georgia, to Dr. Burnette and Wilhemina Jackson. The second of three children, she spent most of her early life and college days in Tuskegee, Alabama, where her father was a dentist and her mother worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital. By the time Jackson was fourteen, she was a member of the Tuskegee Institute Track and Field Club, an avenue for talented young women in high school and college to gain entry to national meets. From then on, Nell Jackson’s life revolved around track.

As a competitor, Jackson was an All-American sprinter and a member of the 1948 U S Olympic team Even though she did not win a medal she stated that the Olympics were one of the greatest experience of my life It s something I never would have ...


Born in Dallas, Texas, Michael Johnson graduated from Baylor University in 1990. He suffered a series of injuries early in his running career, including a broken leg that kept him from competing in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. In 1990, healthy for the full season, Johnson won twenty of the twenty-one races he entered and became the first male sprinter to be ranked first in the world in both the 200- and 400-meter dashes. In 1991 he was undefeated in races at both distances and repeated his world number-one ranking in both events. Forced by scheduling to choose between the two events at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona Spain Johnson chose the 200 meter dash an event he was highly favored to win He suffered food poisoning shortly before the Olympics began however and a severely weakened Johnson failed to reach the 200 meter ...


Sean E. Malone

world-class sprinter and Olympic gold medalist. Michael Duane Johnson was the youngest of five children born to truck driver Paul Johnson Sr. and schoolteacher Ruby Johnson in Dallas, Texas. As a child, Michael's parents encouraged him to work hard, live a disciplined life, and focus on education—ideals embodied by Michael's older siblings, all of whom earned college degrees. As a high school freshman, the talented Johnson refused to join the track team so that he could focus on academics. A superb student-athlete, Johnson graduated from Skyline High School in 1986 and was recruited by Baylor University track coach Clyde Hart, who would become his lifelong mentor.

Under Hart's tutelage, Johnson honed his talents as a sprinter. Competing in multiple events, including the 200 meters, 400 meters, and 4 x 400-meter relay, Johnson was a dominant force. In 1990 alone he won NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in the ...


Adam W. Green

His parents’ names are not recorded, but he moved along with his family to Pontiac, Michigan when he was three years old. He began running in elementary school, and graduated to hurdling in eighth grade, a sport that would make his career. Though he didn’t make his Pontiac Central High School track team until his junior year in 1955, Jones won the long jump and 120-yard hurdles events at the State Class A meet, and followed that performance up with three victories at the meet the following year. As a senior Jones was named the state’s most outstanding male track athlete, and ranked as one of the top high school hurdlers in the nation.

Despite his perfect technique natural speed and excellent start from the line Jones wasn t recruited by colleges due to his perceived physical shortcomings he was on the short side at five feet ten inches ...


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 ...


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 ...