Wilma Rudolph
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Wilma Rudolph, once told she would not walk, became the world’s fastest woman 60 years ago

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Few could have predicted that a child battling polio would one day win three Olympic gold medals on the track.

Once burdened by a leg brace and told she might never walk again, Wilma Rudolph won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at the 1960 Rome Olympics as the first American woman win three track and field gold medals a single Games.

Rudolph would become one of the most beloved figures in Olympic history and inspire generations of athletes with her speed, grace and story of perseverance. She completed her gold medal hat trick 60 years ago today as part of a 4x100m relay.

Born prematurely in Clarksville, Tennessee, Rudolph was the 20th of 22 children. During childhood, she fought pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio, which temporarily paralyzed her left leg and required her to wear a brace. Rudolph and her mother drove back and forth to Nashville – about 50 miles each way – so she could receive treatment. In between, her family members took turns massaging her leg.

“My doctor told me I would never walk again,” Rudolph wrote in her autobiography. “My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”

Rudolph progressed from the leg brace to an orthopedic shoe until she could walk unassisted. Soon, she took to sports, joining her school’s basketball team as a teenager.

She caught the attention of Ed Temple, coach of the Tigerbelles track team at Tennessee State, while he refereed a game in Clarksville. Temple invited Rudolph to attend his summer camp. She went to her first Olympics in 1956 at age 16, when she won a bronze medal in the 4x100m.

Four years later in Rome, Rudolph tied the world record of 11.3 seconds in the 100m semifinals, then easily won the final in 11.0 seconds (too much tailwind prevented it from being a world record). Three days later, she won the 200m. But Rudolph’s final race may have been the most important to her.

“The race that I think that she wanted more than anything else was the 4x100m relay,” Ed Temple told NBC Sports on “The Olympic Show” leading up to the 2000 Sydney Games. “And that was because her teammates had been in the 100m and the 200m, and they didn’t win any medals. And she was determined that they were gonna win a gold medal.”

On Sept. 8, 1960, a team made up entirely of Tennessee State Tigerbelles won the 4x100m, with Rudolph as the anchor. That completed her gold-medal sweep in Rome.

Known for her graciousness and charming demeanor, she became an international star.

“Mr. Temple would always say that she was a person that never met a stranger,” Wyomia Tyus, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and one of Rudolph’s Tigerbelles teammates, said in a recent telephone interview.

Rudolph retired in 1962. Among her post-track pursuits, she taught second grade and later became a track coach at DePauw University in Indiana. But Rudolph admitted in her autobiography “Wilma” that life as an Olympic champion wasn’t what many expected it to be.

“I was besieged with money problems,” she wrote. “People were always expecting me to be a star, but I wasn’t making the money to live like one. I felt exploited both as a woman and as a Black person.”

In 1980, Tennessee State named its indoor track in her honor. She was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, Black Athletes Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Rudolph moved back to her home state in 1992, becoming a vice president for Nashville’s Baptist Hospital. Two years later, she was diagnosed with brain and throat cancer. She died on Nov. 12, 1994, at age 54.

Her legacy continues to stir inspiration on and off the track.

“She had a grace of her own,” Rudolph’s Rome relay teammate Lucinda Williams said on “The Olympic Show.” “She carried with her the pride and the joy, the pain, the heartaches of being a female athlete.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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Coco Gauff eliminated from French Open

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PARIS (AP) — American teenager Coco Gauff’s French Open debut ended in the second round after she double-faulted 19 times in a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 loss to 159th-ranked qualifier Martina Trevisan.

Gauff double-faulted twice in the last game of the 2-hour, 11-minute match.

The 16-year-old Gauff has reached at least the third round at the other three major tournaments.

For Trevisan, a 26-year-old from Italy, this was her first victory in a Grand Slam match played to its conclusion.

She lost in the first round at the Australian Open this year in her first appearance at a major, then advanced Sunday at Roland Garros when her opponent, Camila Giorgi, stopped playing in the second set because of an injury.

Against Gauff, Trevisan kept yelling, “Yes!” and “Let’s go!” in Italian between points, then let out a high-pitched scream when the match ended.

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Earlier, Defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the third round by beating American player Mackenzie McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

The No. 2-seeded Spaniard is looking to win his record-extending 13th French Open title and equal Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20 major titles overall.

Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to 95-2 when he sealed victory on his first match point. He next faces 74th-ranked Stefano Travaglia of Italy.

Sebastian Korda has now beaten two tour veterans in his first French Open.

After eliminating Andreas Seppi in his opening main draw match, the 20-year-old American qualifier took out 21st-seeded John Isner in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win.

A former junior world No. 1 and winner of the boys title at the 2018 Australian Open — and the son of 1992 French Open finalist Petr Korda — Korda broke Isner’s normally dominant serve five times.

The No. 213-ranked Korda will next face either Mikhail Kukushkin or qualifier Pedro Martinez on Friday.

Also, No. 27-seeded American Taylor Fritz reached the third round by serving 16 aces in a straight-set victory over Radu Albot.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Final postponed

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The Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating competition, will not take place as scheduled in December in Beijing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Skating Union announced Wednesday that the Final was postponed.

There were “a number of logistical points raised by potentially participating teams that meant that hosting the competitions on the scheduled dates (close to the end of year holidays and national championships) would have impacted on the number of participants, given the potential need to quarantine on returning to their home country,” according to the ISU.

The ISU is “evaluating the continuation” of the upcoming season and possible rescheduling of the competition in China, which doubles as a 2022 Beijing Olympic test event.

The Grand Prix Final, held every December after the six-event Grand Prix Series, is the biggest indicator of Olympic and world championships medal prospects.

The Grand Prix Series is still scheduled to start with Skate America in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

Fields have not been announced, but skaters are restricted to compete at the event in their home nation or in or near their training location.

The ISU also announced that the remaining World Cup short track speed skating stops in 2020 were postponed or canceled — Seoul and Beijing, both in December.

Previously, the first short track World Cups in November were canceled. All four of the long-track speed skating World Cups scheduled this fall were also canceled.

The next scheduled World Cup short- or long-track events are in February.

MORE: Alysa Liu grows on the ice and adds inches, too

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