History of HBCU athletics stars at the Olympics
HBCU Track and Field Athletes Quanera Hayes of Livingstone and Randolph Ross Jr., and Trevor Stewart of North Carolina A&T are on the US Olympic team while several other HBCU products will compete for other countries on the occasion of the kick-off of the 2020 Summer Olympics this Thursday, July 23, 2021 in Tokyo.
As this year’s Games approach, HBCU Gameday and the Black College Sports Page commemorate the significant contributions of Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to this global event. Over the years, HBCU’s male and female athletes and coaches have helped set countless world records, won numerous medals, dominated certain events and repeatedly captured the imaginations of the nation and the world. We focus on the medalists, although there have been many more HBCU athletes who have competed in the Olympic competition.
This year’s Olympics take place a year later than expected after the coronavirus pandemic displaced it from last summer.
Athletes, coaches, coaches and dignitaries from around the world, but only a handful of fans, will descend on Tokyo as the Games begin with new strains of the pandemic raging in Japan and other parts of the world . The Games will run through August 8 with unprecedented global sporting competition as the world comes together to demonstrate unity and diversity.
Historically Black College and University (HBCU) athletes have participated in every Olympic Games since 1948.
In fact, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) in particular had athletic participation in every Olympic Games after WWII until the turn of the century. The state of Tennessee alone, led by legendary coach Edward S. Temple from 1952 to 1988, won 16 Olympic gold medals in track and field, eight silver and five bronze.
“We have had some amazing moments in the history of athletics,” SIAC Commissioner Wallace Jackson told BCSP at the historic Centennial Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
Alice Coachman-Davis, the first champion
The first African-American woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics was an HBCU product Alice Coachman from Tuskegee University. At 1948 Olympic Games in London, Coachman, who after her marriage became Alice Coachman Davis, won a gold medal in the high jump, breaking US and Olympic records with a jump of 5 feet 6 1/8 inches.
Coachman won 25 national titles, most of them in the high jump where she won 10 consecutive titles from 1939 to 1948. Her first national high jump title was at the age of 16 when she would have left the basketball court and jumped higher than the world. record. The following year, she moved from her home in Albany, Georgia, to Tuskegee where her colleague Hall of Famer Cleve Abbott became his trainer.
A good sprinter, Coachman won the 50-meter outdoors from 1943 to 1947, the 100-meter outdoors in 1942, 1945 and 1946, and the 50-meter indoors in 1945 and 1946. Coachman also anchored the national champion from the Tuskegee Institute 4 × 100 meter relay teams in 1941 and 1942. She also attended Albany State University
Coachman Davis retired after the 1948 games, became a teacher, and established the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to help young athletes in financial need. Coachman Davis died on July 14, 2014 at the age of 90.
Continuing the HBCU Athletic Legacy
In the 1952 Helsinki Finland Games, Catherine hardy (Lavender) from Fort Valley State, Tennessee Mae faggs (Starr) and Barbara Jones (Slater) won gold medals as a member of the 4 × 400 meter relay team. Hardy ran the anchor leg for the quartet which set a world record of 45.9 seconds. Jones Slater won her medal at age 15, still the youngest Olympic winner.
In the 1956 Melbourne Australia Olympic Games, Mildred McDaniel (Singleton) de Tuskegee won the gold medal and broke the world record in the high jump, jumping 5 feet, 9 ¼ inches. North Carolina College (now NC Central) Lee calhoun not only won gold in the 110-meter hurdles, but repeated the feat in Rome in 1960. Tennessee State long jumper Willye White won a silver medal in Melbourne and later became the first woman to represent the United States in five Olympics.
1956: a star is born
At the 1960 Games, the legend of HBCU track and field heroine Wilma Rudolph was born.
Rudolph was the 12th of 22 children from Bethlehem, Tennessee, who suffered from several illnesses as a child. Among them were pneumonia and scarlet fever. She suffered from childhood paralysis at age five, which disabled her for much of her youth. The future track star wore braces on her leg and left foot until she was 12.
Her family moved to Clarksville, Tennessee and sought treatment for their conditions at Meharry College of Medicine an HBCU in Nashville and the first South African American medical school. Through a combination of Meharry’s and her family’s TLC treatments, she was able to overcome those early setbacks and excel in basketball and track and field while in high school.
Introducing Wilma Rudolph to the world
Rudolph attended Temple’s summer athletic camps at TSU while in high school and under his tutelage became a multiple winner on the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit. She qualified for the 1956 Olympics in the 200 meters but did not win a medal in that event. She won a bronze medal at the age of 16 in the 4 × 400 meter relay with Tigerbelles Isabelle Daniels (Holston), Margaret Matthews (Wilburn) and Faggs.
Coachman’s Olympic achievements took place before the Games were fully covered on national television. His feat came 12 years before Rudolph, now a candidate for the Temple Tigerbelles, stunned the world in front of a national television audience and lifted black America by winning three unprecedented gold medals (100m, 200m relay and 4 × 100 meters), each in world record. times, at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
HBCU Track and Field Mentors
Dr Leroy Walker, then at North Carolina College (now NC Central), coached the men’s track and field for that 1960 Olympic team. Temple led the women’s track team.