Alice Coachman

Week 43 (12 - 18 July 2014)

The story of Alice Coachman – the first black woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic Games, who died this week – is as important to the modern-day sports industry as it was in changing attitudes in segregated America in 1948.

Along her journey to Olympic gold in the high jump at London's post-war "Austerity Games", Coachman had to overcome the intense prejudice that came with being a black athlete in America's pre-civil rights era.

She was barred from using public sports facilities meaning she had to run on dirt roads to train; and during a ceremony to celebrate her victory she was not invited to speak publically to those who had come to honour her.

But the widespread coverage in the global sports media of her death at the age of 90 proves that the qualities which she displayed in her athletic career: belief, humility and optimism, to name a few, are the same values which people look to sport to provide today.

Coachman's actions in 1948 – and the 10 years of dominance at national championships which preceded it – earned her inductions into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.

But it was by winning Olympic gold and making history that she made her strongest statement, and she was fully aware at the time of the importance of her performance in London, admitting in 1996 that she knew "if I had gone to the Games and failed, there wouldn't be anyone to follow in my footsteps."

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