Wilma Rudolph

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Wilma Rudolph athletics

Wilma Rudolph.jpg
Wilma Rudolph crossing the finish line in a competition
in Madison Square Garden (1961)

Full name Wilma Glodean Rudolph
nation United StatesUnited States United States
birthday June 23, 1940
place of birth Saint Bethlehem (Tennessee)
size 180 cm
Weight 59 kg
date of death November 12, 1994
Place of death Brentwood, Tennessee
discipline sprint
Best performance 11.2 s ( 100 m )
22.9 s ( 200 m )
society TSU Tigers
End of career 1963
Medal table
Olympic games 3 × gold 0 × silver 1 × bronze
Olympic rings Olympic games
bronze Melbourne 1956 4 × 100 m
gold Rome 1960 100 m
gold Rome 1960 200 m
gold Rome 1960 4 × 100 m

Wilma Rudolph ( Wilma Glodean Rudolph ; born June 23, 1940 in Saint Bethlehem , Tennessee , † November 12, 1994 in Brentwood , Tennessee) was an American athlete and Olympic champion . Her achievements brought her the name "Black Gazelle" ( Italian La Gazzella Nera) .


Wilma Rudolph grew up in a family with seven siblings and eleven half-siblings. Soon after she was born, the family moved to the neighboring town of Clarksville . During her childhood, Wilma suffered a number of serious illnesses. A polio continued her left leg out of action, and only after years of physiotherapy and specific massages she could walk unaided again. From eleven on, she could finally play basketball with her brothers . Soon she achieved great success in the sport in high school . Ed Temple, athletics coach for the Tigerbelles of Tennessee State College , discovered her in 1955 as a referee at a basketball match, recognized her talent and gave her a scholarship to work at his college.

Athletic career

The following year, she qualified for the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, where she won bronze in the 4 x 100 meter relay . After a pregnancy break in 1958, she was one of the world's best sprinters and set two world records in 1960 : With 22.9 s over 200 meters , she improved Betty Cuthbert's old mark by three tenths of a second; in the 100-meter run she achieved 11.3 s and thus equalized the time of Shirley Strickland de la Hunty and Wera Krepkina .

At the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960 she won all three short-distance disciplines: In the individual disciplines of 100 and 200 meters, she won all races with at least three tenths of a second advantage; the fabulous time of 11.0 s in the 100 meter final could not be rated as a world record due to the strong tail wind. In the 4 x 100 meter relay she ran together with Martha Hudson , Lucinda Williams and Barbara Jones in the run-up to a world record (44.4 s); In the final, Rudolph secured the gold as the final runner in front of the German relay, which was tied at the beginning of the home stretch.

Wilma Rudolph finally became a star. When the governor of her home state, Buford Ellington , wanted to hold a parade to celebrate her homecoming, Rudolph did not agree until this was desegregated ; the parade and banquet that followed were the first in Clarksville to erase the differences between black and white. That, too, helped make her a role model for the US civil rights movement .

On August 19, 1961, she set another world record over 100 meters with 11.2 seconds in Stuttgart.

Further career

Wilma Rudolph (1960)

In 1961 she married William Ward; however, the marriage was short-lived. She contested her last race in early 1963; an appendectomy and pregnancy prompted her to end her athletic career shortly afterwards. After graduating that year, she became an elementary school teacher and basketball and track and field coach, and shortly after the formal divorce in 1963, she married the father of her newborn child, childhood friend and basketball player Robert Eldridge, whom she had a daughter in 1958 had brought. The marriage, which was divorced in 1980, had two more children.

She launched various projects to get urban youth off the street into sports and wrote an autobiography that was made into a film. In 1981 she founded the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to support young black athletes. Her most prominent protégé was Florence Griffith-Joyner , who also managed the feat of winning gold three times at one of the Olympic Games.

On November 12, 1994, Wilma Rudolph died of a brain tumor in Brentwood , a suburb of Nashville .


In 1960 and 1961, she was honored with the Associated Press' Athlete of the Year award .

In 1974 she was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame (as the first black female athlete) .

In 1997, Governor Don Sundquist proclaimed June 23rd to be Wilma Rudolph Day .

A comprehensive school in Berlin-Zehlendorf was renamed Wilma-Rudolph-Oberschule in her honor in 2000 .

In 2014 she was inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame .


  • with Martin Ralbovsky: Wilma. The story of Wilma Rudolph. Signet, 1977, ISBN 0451077482
  • Wilma Rudolph on track. Wanderer Books, 1980, ISBN 067195475X



  • Maureen M. Smith: Wilma Rudolph: A Biography. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, ISBN 0313333076
  • Rita Liberti; Maureen M. Smith: (Re) presenting Wilma Rudolph , Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0-8156-3384-6

Web links


  1. USA Track & Field Hall of Fame
  2. ^ Jan Onofrio: Tennessee Biographical Dictionary . North American Book Dist LLC, June 1, 1999, ISBN 978-0-403-09700-5 , p. 1.
  3. Time : The Fastest Female . September 19, 1960
  4. ^ A b Ernst Probst: Wilma Rudolph: The "black gazelle" ( Memento from December 3, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  5. Bobby L. Lovett: Wilma Rudolph and the TSU Tigerbelles. On: Tennessee State University website; Nashville, TN, undated in 1997. Retrieved May 5, 2019 (in English).
  6. a b White House website (archive): White House Dream Team: Wilma Rudolph
  7. a b ESPN : Rudolph ran and world went wild
  8. Overview of the development of the 100m world record for women on rekorde-im-sport.de
  9. Sports Illustrated : Slight Change Of Pace For Wilma ( Memento from July 23, 2012 in the web archive archive.today ). September 7, 1963
  10. ^ Gale Cengage Learning: Black History - Biographies - Wilma Rudolph
  11. USATF: Hall of Fame - Wilma Rudolph
  12. Lakewood Public Library: Women in History - Wilma Rudolph biography ( Memento of November 4, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (last update March 9, 2009)
  13. Die Welt : Wilma Rudolph - her name lives on . July 14, 2000
  14. Wilma Rudolph, the black gazelle. Internet Movie Database , accessed November 10, 2015 .