1940-1994 Born in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph was the first female American runner to win three gold medals in the Olympic Games. She earned the title of “World’s Fastest Woman” by winning the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash and anchoring the 400-meter relay at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
These achievements would be considered remarkable by any standard, but in light of the fact that as a child Rudolph suffered an attack of polio and scarlet fever that left her unable to walk without braces or orthopedic shoes until age twelve, they are amazing. Rudolph’s phenomenal accomplishments helped remove barriers to women’s participation in track and field events.
She was named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year and received the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Award, among many other honors and awards. Considered one of the greatest female athletes in history, Rudolph was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974.