Fitness Firsts: 5 Things To Know About Alice Coachman, The First Black Woman To Win Olympic Gold

March 2, 2018  |  

Alice Coachman

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For Women’s History month, we are excited to take the time out to celebrate the trailblazing accomplishments of Black women in sports. Without them, doors wouldn’t have been opened to allow some of the greatest names in all of sports, woman and man alike, to compete and make their mark. 

How much do you know about Alice Coachman? Maybe the name sounds familiar to you, but chances are, you probably aren’t aware of how much of a pioneer she was. Coachman was the first Black woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics, accomplishing that feat at the 1948 Summer Games.

The legendary track and field athlete passed away in 2014 at the age of 90, but she left behind a legacy that many can be grateful for.

“I made a difference among the blacks, being one of the leaders,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 1996. “If I had gone to the Games and failed, there wouldn’t be anyone to follow in my footsteps. It encouraged the rest of the women to work harder and fight harder.”

Check out five things you should know about this iconic athlete.

She was one of 10 children.

Coachman, who was raised in Albany, Georgia during segregation, was the fifth of father Fred and mother Evelyn Coachman’s children. She played a whole host of sports growing up, including baseball, softball and track. Her father wasn’t crazy about her interest in sports, as he didn’t feel as though such pursuits were ladylike, but that didn’t hold her back.

She struggled to take part in organized sports because of her skin color.

Her love of athletics grew as she did, but Coachman was unable to visit different training facilities or even to compete in certain organized sports because she was Black. According to Biography, she had to get creative with her training, running barefoot on different surfaces (fields and dirt roads) and jumping over whatever old equipment was available to practice the high jump.

She was scouted as a teenager.

As a teen, Coachman’s talents were witnessed by those in the athletic department at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She was offered a scholarship at the age of 16. During that time, she was a force to be dealt with in many Amateur Athlete Union and national track and field competitions. She broke records (while barefoot at times) in the high jump and was coming in first places in plenty of short races, including the 50 and 100 meters, as well as 400-meter relays.

Alice Coachman

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She missed out on two Olympic Games before having her chance to compete.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Coachman may have been leaving the competition in the dust, but she missed out on the chance to compete in the Olympics in 1940 and 1944. Not because she failed to qualify, but unfortunately, because World War II forced the Games to be canceled during those years.

She jumped her way to Olympic gold.

Coachman was finally able to show the world what she was capable of during the Games in London in 1948. While there, she managed to set a record in the high jump, jumping over 5’6″ inches, and doing it on her first try. She became the first woman to go for and take home gold at the Olympics. Thankfully, many other Black female gold medalists would come after her.

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