The Young Empire Vintage

Wilma Rudolph overcame polio to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympics Games, aged 20

HISTORY: Wilma Rudolph

THIS IS Wilma Rudolph, who, at 20, made history as the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games.

Wilma was born prematurely at 4.5 pounds (2.0 kg) and contracted contracted infantile paralysis (caused by the polio virus), aged four.

She recovered, but wore a brace on her left leg and foot (which had become twisted as a result) until she was nine. She was required to wear an orthopedic shoe for support of her foot for another two years.

Her family traveled regularly from Clarksville, Tennessee, to Meharry Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, for treatments for her twisted leg.

By the time she was twelve years old she had also survived bouts of polio and scarlet fever.

However, at the the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, she made history.

A track and field champion, she elevated women’s track to a major presence in the United States.

As a member of the black community, she is also regarded as a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer.

Along with other 1960 Olympic athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Oscar Robertson, and Rafer Johnson, Rudolph became an international star due to the first worldwide television coverage.

After these wins, she was being hailed throughout the world as “the fastest woman in history”.

The upstart sprinter emerged from the 1960 Rome Olympics as “The Tornado, the fastest woman on earth”. The Italians nicknamed her La Gazzella Nera (“The Black Gazelle”); to the French she was La Perle Noire (“The Black Pearl”).


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