June 23: Happy Birthday to the Late Great, Wilma Rudolph!!

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Wilma Glodean Rudolph was an athlete and an Olympic champion.

Rudolph was considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and competed in two Olympic Games, in 1956 and in 1960. In the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome Rudolph became the 1st American woman to win 3 gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games.

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 Cassius Clay, who later became Muhammad Ali, Rudolph became an international star due to the first international television coverage of the Olympics that year.

The powerful sprinter emerged from the 1960 Rome Olympics as “The Tornado,” the fastest woman on earth. The Italians nicknamed her La Gazzella Negra (“The Black Gazelle”); to the French, she was La Perle Noire (“The Black Pearl”). She is one of the most famous Tennessee State University Tigerbelles, the name of the TSU women’s track and field program.

?In 1977 a made-for-TV docudrama titled Wilma (also known asThe Story of Wilma Rudolph) was produced by Bud Greenspan; it starred Shirley Jo Finney, Cicely Tyson, Jason Bernard and Denzel Washington in one of his first roles.

?On November 12, 1994, at age 54, she died of cancer in her home in Nashville. Wilma also had throat cancer. Thousands of mourners filled Tennessee State University’s Kean Hall on November 17, 1994, for the memorial service in her honor. Others attended the funeral at Clarksville’s First Baptist Church. Across Tennessee, the state flag flew at half-mast.

?In 1994, Wilma Rudolph Boulevard was the name given to the portion of U.S. Route 79 in Clarksville, Tennessee.

?9 months after Rudolph’s death, Tennessee State University, on August 11, 1995, dedicated its new six-story dormitory the “Wilma G. Rudolph Residence Center.”

?A black marble marker was placed on her grave in Clarksville’s Foster Memorial Garden Cemetery by the Wilma Rudolph Memorial Commission on November 21, 1995.

?The Woman’s Sports Foundation Wilma Rudolph Courage Award is presented to a female athlete who exhibits extraordinary courage in her athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity, makes significant contributions to sports and serves as an inspiration and role model to those who face challenges, overcomes them and strives for success at all levels. This award was first given in 1996 to Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

?In 1997, Governor Don Sundquist proclaimed that June 23 be known as “Wilma Rudolph Day” in Tennessee.

?A life-size bronze statue of Rudolph stands at the southern end of the Cumberland River Walk at the base of the Pedestrian Overpass, College Street and Riverside Drive, in Clarksville.

?In 2000 Sports Illustrated magazine ranked Rudolph as number one in its listing of the top 50 greatest sports figures in twentieth-century Tennessee.

?Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Berlin in 1994, Berlin American High School (BAHS) was turned over to the people of Berlin and became the “Gesamtschule Am Hegewinkel.” The school was renamed the “Wilma Rudolph Oberschule” in her honor in summer 2000.

?On July 14, 2004, the United States Postal Service issued a 23-cent Distinguished Americans series postage stamp in recognition of her accomplishments.

?Rudolph was United Press Athlete of the Year 1960 and Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year for 1960 and 1961.

?Also in 1961, the year of her father’s death, Rudolph won the James E. Sullivan Award, an award for the top amateur athlete in the United States, and visited President John F. Kennedy.

?She was voted into the National Black Sports and Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1973 and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974.

?She was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.

?She was honored with the National Sports Award in 1993.

?She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

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