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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 ...


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.


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


John Henry Davis won his first world weightlifting title in 1938 at the age of seventeen, competing in the light heavyweight class. In the years when Davis was competing, there were three individual lifts in weightlifting competition: the press, the snatch, and the clean and jerk. (The press was eliminated from international competition after the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany.) The three were then compiled together to determine the overall lift. At the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Davis won the gold medal in the heavyweight class (now called super heavyweight), setting world and Olympic records in the clean and jerk and the snatch and establishing Olympic records in the press and the three-lift total. Davis, who was trimmer and more fit than many of his competitors, became a hero in Europe after his performance and was known in France as L'Hercule Noir (the Black Hercules).

Davis triumphed ...


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 ...


Olivia Perlow

the son of Cherie Davis and Reginald Shuck. As a single mother raising her only child in the Chicago South Side Hyde Park neighborhood, Cherie Davis sought to provide Shani with a wealth of opportunities. She introduced him to roller skating at the age of two, and by four years old he was skating so fast that the rink monitors often had to slow him down. At age six it was suggested to his mother that Shani try speed skating. Since there were no ice skating rinks on the South Side of Chicago, they had to travel to the northern suburbs twice a week to practice with the Evanston Speed Skating Club, a majority-black club with a black coach, uniquely positioned within a virtually all-white sport.

At the age of six Davis began competing locally and by the age of eight he was winning regional competitions Although he would sometimes ...


Kennetta Hammond Perry

Although she had already established a stellar record in the arena of women’s gymnastics by the time she was twenty years old, through the years Dominique Dawes has continued to show her commitment to athletics and public service. In addition to developing a world-class reputation in sports, Dawes has also been an advocate for a number of important issues, including highway safety for young drivers and increasing self-esteem for young women.

Dominique Dawes was born to Don and Loretta Dawes in Silver Spring, Maryland. At an early age her parents enrolled her in gymnastics classes, a move that allowed her to enter uncharted territory and build an impressive array of accomplishments. Dawes began competing at age nine, and by the time she was twelve, she had entered her first international championship, placing sixteenth in the all-around competition in Brisbane, Australia.

With each passing year Dawes cultivated her skills as a ...


Winifred W. Thompson

Anita L. DeFrantz is one of the most influential people in sports in the early twenty-first century. She became involved in the Olympic field as a competitor when she won a bronze medal on the U.S. women’s eight-oared shell at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. She was the first woman to represent the United States on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1986 and, in 1997, she became the first woman, as well as the first African American, to be vice president of the IOC. DeFrantz has worked on the Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta Olympic Games as a member of the United States Olympic Executive Committee.

DeFrantz was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Robert and Anita P. DeFrantz Her father directed the Community Action against Poverty organization her mother taught and eventually became a professor of Education at the University of San Francisco DeFrantz s ...


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 ...


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 ...


Norman O. Richmond

organizer of protests by black U.S. athletes at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. As a young activist at San Jose State University, Harry Edwards led a black student protest that forced cancellation of the school's opening football game in 1967. He then organized a national boycott to bring attention to the racism endemic to organized sports in the United States, calling for more black coaches and more equitable treatment for black athletes. His most famous crusade was as an architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an effort to boycott the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City The boycott failed to materialize and the OPHR instead focused on using the Olympics to give visibility to the black liberation struggle The project was both Pan Africanist and internationalist in scope black athletes from the United States would be demonstrating their solidarity with liberation movements in the ...


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 ...


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 ...


Joseph Wilson David

The game known in the United States as football evolved into its current form from rugby and soccer (“soccer” is still called “football” in most countries outside North America) in the nineteenth century. The Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) was founded in 1876 to organize this new game. Rules for the precursor to the modern game were developed by the twenty-year-old Walter Camp at Yale University in 1879.

Camp codified innovations begun earlier in the century when William Ebb Ellis playing soccer violated the rule against running with the ball The modern sport of football in the United States is a game that features eleven players on each side of the ball with the team on offense seeking to move the ball ten yards on each play or down which begins with the snap of the ball Failing to gain ten yards in four downs means turning the ball ...


Patrick Stearns

professional boxer, actor, product spokesperson, and minister. George Edward Foreman was born in Marshall, Texas, to J. D. Foreman and Nancy Foreman. By the seventh grade he had dropped out of school, engaging in petty crimes, such as muggings. At age sixteen he enrolled in a Job Corps training program in Oregon. While working at a conservation camp affiliated with the program, Foreman found that he had a talent for boxing, and he won the Corps Diamond Belt Boxing Tournament.

In 1968 Foreman made the U.S. Olympic boxing team and won the gold medal in the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Vietnam War protests, the rise of black nationalism, and episodes of civil unrest in U.S. cities after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination earlier in the year were a sign of the times. The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City were also the scene ...