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As a child, Wilma Rudolph overcame polio to become an Olympic sprint champion. This made her an American icon and a role model.

Childhood illnesses

Wilma Rudolph was the 20th of 22 children. As a young child she was paralysed by polio, and contracted both scarlet fever and double pneumonia. Many doctors felt she would never walk again, yet she always believed otherwise. By the time she was 12, she had regained her ability to walk and took up athletics. Eight years later she was an Olympic champion.

Olympic debut

Rudolph made her Olympic debut at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Aged just 16, she was amember of the American 4x100m relay team that claimed a bronze medal.

Glory in Rome

The 1960 Rome Games provided the defining moments of Rudolph’s extraordinary life story. She stormed to gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, breaking three world records in the process. She was dubbed “The Black Gazelle” by the European press for her speed, beauty and grace.


Her brilliant career ended with her retirement in 1962, after which she devoted herself to coaching and worked extensively with underprivileged children. Tragically, Rudolph died from a brain tumour at the age of 54.




A summer gold rush

At Rome 1960, sprinter Wilma Rudolph became the first female to win three gold medals in a single edition of the Olympic Games. Here, we pay homage to her and some of the other multiple gold medal winners at the Olympic Games who have booked their places in the Olympic pantheon.
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Tiger Belles

12th September 1960: The 'Tennessee Tiger Belles', the American athletic team who collected three gold medals in the 1960 Olympic Games, arrive at London Airport from Rome for the Commonwealth versus USA athletics meeting at White City. From left to right, they are Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Wilma Rudolph and Barbara Jones. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
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Rome 1960-HUDSON Martha, WILLIAMS Lucinda, JONES Barbara, RUDOLPH Wilma (USA) 1st.
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Rome 1960-USA 1st, EUA 2nd, POL 3rd.
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Olympic Runners

The three winners of the Ladies 200 metre final at the Rome Olympics, 6th September 1960. From left to right, Britain's Dorothy Hyman (bronze), the USA's Wilma Rudolph (gold) and Germany's Jutta Heine (silver). (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Olympic Winner

5th September 1960: American athlete Wilma Rudolph winning an Olympic Gold medal in the 200 metres final which she ran in 24 seconds at the stadium in Rome. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)


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