Paving The Way For Greatness

By Tony McClean, BASN Editor In Chief
Updated: February 18, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Ct. (BASN) — While names like Wilma Rudolph, Gail Devers, and Evelyn Ashford are familiar with many Olympic sports fans, one woman would help pave the way for their future accomplishments.

Today, we take a look back a true female sports pioneer, Alice Coachman-Davis, the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Ms. Coachman-Davis made history and gained international attention by capturing the high jump title with a record-setting jump of 5-feet-6 1/8 inches during the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

In fact, Coachman-Davis was the only American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics in 1948. While the games catapulted her to international acclaim and the first endorsement among African-American women, she had proven herself as a major track and field force in prior years.

She won 10 consecutive U.S. titles in the high jump and national titles at 50-meters, 100-meters and as a member in the 400-meter relay on the Tuskegee championship team.

Many believe she would have dominated the 1940 and 1944 Summer Games, which were cancelled because of World War II. A native of Albany, Ga., she attended Tuskegee University, but earned her bachelor’s degree from Albany State (College) after returning from the 1948 Games.

As a collegian, she was a member of three Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) championship basketball teams. She dominated Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) competitions in the high jump. From 1938 to 1948, she won 10 consecutive AAU high jump titles.

In 1994, she established the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists both young athletes and retired Olympians.

As a lasting tribute, Albany State University will host the 18th Annual Alice Coachman Invitational Track Meet on Saturday, April 3, at Robert Cross Track and Field Facility and Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany.