Wilma Rudolph was a track and field athlete who shined on the world stage during the 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics. She became the first American to win three gold medals at a single Summer Olympics. The Tennessee native was born on June 23, 1940.
Rudolph was the twentieth of her father’s 22 children from two marriages and was raised primarily in the town of Clarksville. She suffered from polio as a child after being born prematurely but her family’s dedication helped her receive physical therapy and medical care so that she could eventually walk without leg braces.
Rudolph became a strong athlete in high school, catching the attention of a track and field coach at Tennessee State University, where she began training while still in the amateur ranks. At 16, Rudolph qualified for the Summer Olympics at the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials for the Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia.
At the 1956 Summer Games, Rudolph took home a bronze medal as part of the 4×100 relay team. In 1960, she made history by winning gold in the 100 Meter, 200 Meter, and 4X100 Relay events. Rudolph completed her collegiate career and retired from sports at 22 to become an educator and coach to student-athletes.
Cancer struck Rudolph and claimed her life in 1994 at the age of 54. In the years prior to her passing and In the wake of her untimely death, Rudolph was bestowed with several honors, including having her image used on a U.S. Postal Service stamp. Rudolph married twice, though both marriages ended in divorce. She was survived by four children and eight grandchildren.
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