Superman is revered as being faster than a speeding bullet, while the Flash is acknowledged as the fastest man alive. No doubt you already knew that. But what about a woman who was so fast, she was also known as Skeeter, the Black Gazelle, the Tornado, and the Black Pearl – how much do you know about her?
Wilma Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940 in Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee as the 20th of 22 siblings. When she was four years old, Rudolph contracted infantile paralysis from the polio virus. Although she recovered, Rudolph had to wear a brace on her left leg and foot until she was 9. This was later replaced with an orthopedic shoe for an additional two years. By the time Rudolph was 12 years old she had survived several bouts of polio and scarlet fever. When her treatments ended in 1953, Rudolph followed in her sister’s footsteps to play basketball. During a game, she was spotted by Tennessee State track and field coach Ed Temple.
By the time she was 16, Rudolph earned a berth on the U.S. Olympic track and field team and won an Olympic bronze medal from the 1956 Melbourne Games. In 1959, Rudolph won a gold medal in the 4 × 100 m relay at the Pan American Games, with an individual silver in the 100 m. That same year she won the AAU 100 m title and defended it for four consecutive years. Throughout her career, she also won three AAU indoor titles. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome she won three Olympic sprint gold medals. She even ran the 100 m dash in a phenomenal 11 seconds flat! This time was not credited as a world record because it was considered wind-assisted.
Rudolph later ran and won the 200 m dash in 23.2 seconds, setting a new Olympic record. Following these incredible wins, Rudolph was being hailed throughout the world as “the fastest woman in history.” After a fulfilling track career and family life, Rudolph sadly passed away on November 12, 1994 at the age of 54.
Wilma Rudolph’s legacy continues to inspire athletes the world over, reminding everyone “the triumph can't be had without the struggle.”