Evergreen US sprint heroine
A record-breaking sprinting star of the 1970s and 1980s, Evelyn Ashford is one of the few track and field athletes to boast four Olympic gold medals.
Built for speed Born into a military family in Shreveport, Louisiana (USA) and the eldest of five children, Evelyn Ashford began to excel at sprinting while in her teens. She had barely turned 17 when she was spotted at an athletics meet in California by Pat Connolly, who would go on to coach her to some of her greatest triumphs. After earning a place on the US Olympic team at the age of 19, she finished fifth in the 100m final at Montreal 1976. Three years down the line, she became the first female American athlete to run under 11 seconds for the 100m and under 22 seconds for the 200m. During the decade that followed, she would do battle with the East German pair of Marlies Göhr and Marita Koch for the title of queen of the track.
Two golds in LA On 3 July 1983 in Colorado Springs (USA), Ashford set her first world record, winning in 10.79 seconds, a marginal improvement on Göhr’s time of 10.81. She was the heavy favourite going into the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki, but she suffered an injury in the final of her chosen event and had to pull out. The following year, at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the diminutive American won two gold medals, clocking up a 10.97 in the individual 100m and running the anchor leg in the 4x100m relay to steer her colleagues to glory ahead of Canada and Great Britain in 41.65. As the LA track events had taken place without the presence of the East Germans, Ashford proved a point in Zurich (SUI) on 22 August 1984, not only pipping Göhr at the line but also setting a new world record of 10.76, a time that would top the sprinting charts for four years and still remains the eighth best performance in history.
Triple relay success After marrying basketball player Ray Washington and giving birth to a daughter, Raina, in 1985, Ashford returned to the track. At Seoul 1988, she again ran the last leg of the 4x100m relay for the Americans, helping her team to beat the East Germans into second place with a time of 41.98. At her final Games, in Barcelona in 1992, a 35-year-old Ashford picked up her third gold medal in the relay, – and fourth overall – this time running a solid first leg. Her three consecutive Olympic 4x100m relay victories is a feat that no other female athlete has equalled to this day.