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Alice Coachman: The First Black Female Olympic Gold Medalist

By Ayanna Alexander, Contributing Writer
Posted 12:30 AM EST, Thurs., Feb. 16, 2017

Track star Alice Coachman made history as the first Black woman to win an Olympic Gold medalist at the 1948 London Games. Setting the high jump record at roughly 5-foot-6 and 1/8 inches, Coachman claimed the victory.

Though she broke many records in her collegiate and professional career, Coachman went on to retire Olympic veterans and assist young athletes through the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, which was founded in 1994. She was also the first Black woman to endorse an international product in 1952, after Coca-Cola made her a spokesperson.

Coachman received backlash for being a black girl who excelled in the world of sports, even her own family did not support her aspirations. According to author Heather Lange, Coachman’s father felt “girls should be dainty and sit on the porch and drink tea and not do sports.”

It was because of this, Coachman said that she didn’t have many female playmates.

“I was really a boy in the sight of the other boys I was playing with,” Coachman said during a 2004 interview with NPR. “And when I look back, maybe if I hadn’t played with them, I wouldn’t have been as good as I am. That was my competition right there.”

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At age 24, Coachman got her chance to compete in the 1948 London Games. After she won, she was presented the gold medal by King George VI and was honored as, not only the first black woman to win the gold medal, but also as the only American woman to win gold in track and field at the Games.

Unfortunately, she had to return to America’s reality after the games. She returned to the segregated south. During her victory ceremony in her hometown of Albany, Georgia, Coachman had to enter and exit through a side door.

Some believe Coachman wasn’t widely remembered because she couldn’t participate in Olympic Games prior to 1948, since they were cancelled. She was finally recognized at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games as one of the “100 greatest Olympic athletes in history”. Seven years later, she was inducted in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Despite the lack of recognition, Coachman still felt she made a difference in the Black community. She told The New York Times that she “made a difference among the Blacks, being one of the leaders”.

“If I had gone to the games and failed, there wouldn’t be anyone to follow in my footsteps,” Coachman said.

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