On This Date in Sports September 2, 1960: Wilma

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

American Wilma Rudolph becomes the World’s Fastest Woman after winning a Gold Medal in the 100m at the Rome Summer Olympics. Rudolph who survived polio as a child wins the event in a time of 11.18 as all six runners finish the race in under 12 seconds, with Dorothy Hyman of Britain taking the Silver Medal and Giuseppina Leone of Italy taking the Bronze Medal. 

Wilma Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee. A part of a large family, Rudolph was born premature and suffered numerous childhood illnesses, including scarlet fever and pneumonia. When she was five, Wilma Rudolph suffered paralysis from the poliovirus. She recovered but lost strength in her left leg and needed to wear a brace until she was 12. After gaining full strength due to years of therapy, Wilma Rudolph became an excellent athlete in high school in basketball and track. At the age of 16, she made it to the Olympics in Melbourne winning the Bronze Medal in the 4X100M Relay. 

After giving birth at the age of 18, Wilma Rudolph enrolled at Tennessee State where she continued her track career. Ed Temple served as the track coach at Tennessee State, he had scouter Rudolph a few years earlier and helped her qualify for the 1956 games in the 200m event, which she failed to reach the finals. At 16, Rudolph was the youngest member of the American track team in 1956. 

By the time 1960 arrived, Wilma Rudolph was in peak condition, she set a World Record in the 200m during qualifying for the Olympics. The 1960 Olympics were the first to be shown on television in the United States, helping to make Wilma Rudolph one of the featured athletes as her inspirational story of overcoming polio helped turn her into a national hero, among the first black women to be treated as a sports icon in the USA. 

After her victory in the 100m, Wilma Rudolph ran her best event the 200m three days later, once again she came up with the Gold Medal, running in a time of 24.13 seconds. Jutta Heine of the Unified German team took the Silver Medal, while Dorothy Hyman of Great Britain won the Bronze Medal. Wilma Rudolph completed her Olympics with a Gold Medal anchoring the 4x100m relay on September 8th. She was the first woman to win three Gold Medals in the same Olympics. 

Wilma Rudolph would retire from track after graduating from Tennessee State, she spent much of the next 30 years working as a coach and a teacher.