Sunday, July 25, 2010

Talented Enough

Some people said they just weren’t talented enough

She was born in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Her father worked for the railroad.

She lived in a small house

with seven siblings and no indoor plumbing.

Wilma Glodean Rudolph was born premature

weighing less than five pounds.

By the age of four she endured

scarlet fever, double pneumonia, and polio.

On her mother’s one day off as a maid,

she took Wilma to a medical college in Nashville

where Wilma would receive treatments

for her crippled legs.

At the age of eight Wilma

recovered from her disability.

Her mother gave her a pair of regular shoes,

and for the first time in her life she was “very happy.”

Her brother set up a

peach basket in the back yard.

Wilma––making up for lost time––

shot basketball hoops from morning till night.

She played high school basketball

and was nicknamed “skeeter”

because she appeared to always

be buzzing around the court like a mosquito.

Ed Temple saw her potential

He asked her to join the track team at the

Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University.

But Wilma would have to pay he own way.

Tennessee State had few resources––

especially for women athletes.

Wilma initially found the training regiment difficult,

especially when she was asked to run through fields infested with snakes.

But the women’s track team

was called the Tigerbells.

Coach Temple’s rigorous training methods

and the Tigerbells will to win would shake the world.

Then came the Rome Olympics in the year 1960.

The International Olympic Committee

said they would not

tolerate discrimination in sports.

But there was a catch.

South Africa––a nation where

five out of every six people are Black––

sent no Black athletes

to the games.

The South African authorities argued that

the Black athletes just weren’t talented enough

to compete in the Olympics.

The I.O.C. agreed with this position.

Rafer Johnson led the team from the United States

into the Olympic stadium carrying the flag.

Growing up in the U.S.A. Johnson and millions

of children were told to pledge allegiance to that flag.

They were also told that this same flag

represented “liberty and justice for all.”

Rafer Johnson would win the gold medal in the decathlon––

one of the most grueling events.

Yet, when he and Wilma Rudolph returned home,

they were required to sit

in the back of the buss

where Jim Crow was the law.

But when Wilma Rudolph stepped up

to the 100 meter finals, she was relaxed and ready.

With the wind at her back

she won her first gold medal.

Then she won gold in the 200.

Finally it was time for the Tigerbells to get theirs.

In the 4x100 meter relay there was a slight

mix-up when Wilma caught the baton.

Wilma Rudolph had waited for that baton for a long time.

Although she was not ahead,

after she caught the baton,

the Tigerbells would win the 4x100 relays by five yards.

We might speculate that the gold

in the six medals the Tigerbells received

was taken out of

the South African soil by Black miners.

But the games were not over.

Cassius Clay told everyone on the Olympic team

that he would win a gold medal.

He did. After the Olympics Clay

changed his name to Mohammed Ali.

He refused to be inducted into the US army

because he was opposed to the war against Vietnam.

Ali shook the world when he made the statement

that “No Vietnamese ever called me nigger.”

About one-hundred thousand years ago in Africa

hunters with a dark skin color developed the skill

of running long distances in bare feet for food.

These hunters became known as human beings.

About two-thousand years ago in the city of Rome

spectators watched thousands of gladiators

fight to the death day after day.

One of those gladiators was named Spartacus.

Spartacus didn’t like this arrangement and led a rebellion.

90,000 slaves joined his movement.

In the end, Spartacus was defeated by the Roman legions.

The Romans crucified 6,000 slaves on a road called the Appian Way.

In the year 1960

the final event of the Olympics

was the marathon.

Part of the race would take place on the Appian Way.

Abebe Bikila was on the Ethiopian team

that would run the marathon.

Ethiopia had been colonized by Italy

when Benito Mussolini was in power.

Few people thought Bikila had a chance for a medal.

When he took off his running shoes

and ran barefoot they just didn’t take him seriously.

That was until he pulled away from the field and took a huge lead.

He had the lead on the Appian Way––

the same road where the Roman legions crucified 6,000 slaves.

When he crossed the finish line twenty-five seconds before anyone else,

apparently they thought he was indeed talented enough.

Abebe Bikila was first and came from East Africa.

Rhadi ben Abdessalem came in second and was from Northwest Africa.

In the year 1996 Josia Thugwane won the gold medal in the Marathon.

He is from South Africa.

Apparently Josia Thugwane was one

of the hundreds of Black athletes

who won medals in the Olympics

who clearly were talented enough.

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