While some women track stars have broken world records, others have won Olympic medals or brought new interest to the sport. Once dominated by men, the sport of running now fully supports its female competitors. Known for their athleticism, confidence and generosity, these famous women track runners changed the face of Olympic sports.
Born in 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois, Jacqueline Joyner spent her childhood dabbling in cheerleading and dancing. At the age of nine, she discovered track and field, and her love affair with the sport began. By the age of 14, Joyner had won her first junior national title. She spent her college years at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), where she broke multiple records in track. After winning the silver medal for the heptathlon in the 1984 Olympics, Joyner married her coach, Bob Kersee. Two gold medals were secured in the 1988 Olympics for the heptathlon and long jump, followed by another gold metal for the heptathlon in the 1992 Olympics. Her final Olympic medal was won at the 1996 Olympics; she secured a bronze medal for the long jump. At the age of 38, Joyner-Kersee retired from track and field. According to "Sports Illustrated," she remains one of the greatest Olympic athletes in history.
Throughout her childhood, Wilma Rudolph battled various diseases and afflictions. Born in 1940, Rudolph suffered from polio, scarlet fever and double pneumonia. She wore a leg brace on her right leg, and her doctors questioned whether she would ever walk. By the age of 16, Rudolph was not only walking on her own, but also qualifying for the 1956 Olympics, where she won a bronze medal in the 4x100 meter relay. She went on to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. After retiring, Rudolph held a variety of coaching positions, yet spent most of her time strengthening her community and fighting for human rights. She died in 1994 of brain cancer; she was only 54 years old. Since 1997, her home state of Tennessee celebrates Wilma Rudolph Day every June 23rd.
Born in Amsterdam in 1918, Fanny spent much of her childhood swimming, skating, running and playing tennis. At the age of 14 and at the request of her father, Blankers-Koen began focusing on track and field. Her Olympic debut occurred at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where she placed fifth for the 100-meter relay and sixth for the high jump. Although the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were canceled because of World War II, Blankers-Koen continued to compete in various Dutch track meets, where she set multiple world records. By the 1948 Olympics, she held the world record for the hurdle, long jump, high jump and 100-meter race. At the 1948 London Olympics, she became the first woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympics. Over her 20-year career, Blankers-Koen set 20 world records in seven different events. She was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.