- 29 Jul 1948
- London 1948
Success in sport is often about beating adversity. Audrey “Mickey” Patterson is assured of her place in history because, in 1948, she became the first African-American woman to earn an Olympic medal, in the 200m dash. But she nearly didn't make it to the Games at all.
On the morning of the American trials, Patterson burnt her leg with an iron and was in great pain. Then, just before the final, she was accidentally locked in the dressing room and only made it to the start line when her panicked coach found her. She escaped from the room, regained her composure, and won a place in the team.
The final of the 200m was dominated by another athlete, Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won by a stunning margin. Behind her, the race for the other medals was extremely close. Audrey Williamson won Silver with a time of 25.1secs, while Patterson and Australia's Shirley Strickland were both timed at 25.2secs. It took officials 45 minutes to conclude that Patterson had edged her way to Bronze.
She later became an important administrator in American athletics, as well as a trailblazer in training youngsters to take up the sport. In 1965, Patterson set up a club known as Mickey's Missiles, initially just for girls and then, a few years later, admitting boys. In its first year, it had just three members; undeterred, Mickey Patterson carried on and ended up with more than 125 young runners. Among them, a boy and a girl – Jackie Thompson and Dennis Mitchell - who would both go on to represent their country at the Olympic Games.