Cover of Passing the Baton: Black Women Track Stars and American Identity by Dr. Cat Ariail.

Early Black Female Olympic Legends of the Track (and Field)

Release Date: February 5, 2021

Category: Blog | Authors

We’re pleased to introduce to you the newest citizen of TKFLASTAN, Dr. Cat Ariail, women’s sports historian, and author of Passing the Baton: Black Women Track Stars and American Identity* Cat gave us a lot of insight as to how this women rose up to be great Olympians and pave the way for other Black athletes to achieve their goals.

During the episode, we didn’t give much of an introduction to the women featured in the book because that would’ve taken as long as the interview itself. So here’s a little more about these ladies and links so you can see them in action.


Alice Coachman, the 1st female Black American gold medalist

Alice Coachman competed in high jump at the London 1948 Olympics, and not only did she become the first Black woman from any country to win an Olympic gold medal, she did so with an Olympic record-setting jump. Check out how high she can jump with this technique! How does she do it? The power of lemons.

A native of Georgia, Coachman attended Tuskegee Institute and finished her college degree at Albany State. She became a teacher and track coach. She’s been inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Coachman passed away in 2014.


Mae Faggs, 1st US female to compete in 3 Olympiads

Faggs was a teammate of Alice Coachman’s in 1948, where she competed in the 200m. Faggs became the bedrock of the legendary Tigerbells track team from Tennessee State University, and she went on to compete at Helsinki 1952, winning gold in the 4x100m relay, and at Melbourne 1956, where she was on the bronze medal-winning relay. Here’s a glimpse of her at Helsinki and Melbourne.

Faggs also became a teacher–a P.E. teacher–after getting a master’s degree from University of Cincinnati. She passed away in 2000.


Wyomia Tyus, 2x Olympian, the 1st ever athlete to win back-to-back golds in the 100m

Another of the legendary Tigerbelles from Tennessee State, Wyomia Tyus won gold in the 100m at Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968. She also competed in the 4×100 relay at both Games, winning silver and gold respectively. At Mexico 1968, she also qualified for the 200m, finishing 6th, which earned her a diploma.

We all know the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at Mexico City 1968, but Tyus also protested — you can see her race in black shorts here (notice the other Americans’ white shorts). Read how the media’s ignored her achievements here.

Tyus was a part of the LA 1984 Opening Ceremony as one of the Olympic flagbearers. Her memoir Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story*  is worth a read.


Wilma Rudolph, 2x Olympian, one of the original “Olympic moms

Olympic legend Wilma Rudolph as one of the stars of Rome 1960, where she brought home three gold medals in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay. We talked about Rudolph during our discussion of Rome 1960, but watching her run never gets old, especially when it’s set to music.

Rome wasn’t Rudolph’s first Olympic rodeo. At age 16, she qualified for Melbourne 1956, racing in the 200m and bringing home a bronze in the 4x100m relay.

Like many of her fellow Tigerbelles, Rudolph had a career in education. She passed away in 1994.


Willye White, the first 5x Olympian 

It’d be something to go back to high school after winter break and tell your classmates, Oh, yeah, over break I won an Olympic silver medal. But put that in the context of White, who lived in rural Mississippi. Get your Puffs out for this tribute.

At age 16, White won silver in the long jump at Melbourne 1956. She went on to compete in long jump at the next four Olympics, but never managed to place higher than 11th. She was also part of silver medal-winning 4x100m relay team at Tokyo 1964.

White was part of Tennessee State’s Tigerbelles, but she left college partway through and moved to Chicago, eventually earning a degree from Chicago State University. She worked in health care and also was a sports coach. She passed away in 2007.

Earlene Brown, 3x Olympian, 1st American women to medal in shot put

Another Olympic mom from Rome 1960! Brown competed at shot put at Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960, and Tokyo 1964, and at her first two Games, she also competed in discus.

At Rome 1960, she threw for bronze in the shot put. It took until 2016 for another American woman to medal in the shot put — take that one in for a second. We didn’t even talk about her roller derby career (she’s #747)!

Brown passed away in 1983.

See why did didn’t spend much time on introductions?

* This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase something through this link, we may earn a commission, which keeps our flame alive.

–Alison Brown and Jill Jaracz