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.