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Alice Coachman: Meet the First Black Woman to Win an Olympic Gold Medal


Alice Coachman won the high jump at the 1948 London Olympics and became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Growing up with few opportunities, she beat all the odds and opened the door for other black women. Her achievements remain important to this day, especially at a time when black people are fighting for equal representation. Let’s find out how she got here.

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Alice Coachman’s Early Life

Alice Coachman was born in the segregated South. She lived in Georgia with the rest of her family and was one of 10 kids. Unfortunately,  her parents weren’t in favor of her doing athletics, and she couldn’t get any opportunities to train and participate in competitions. 

That said, the high school coach, Harry E. Lash noticed her talents at Madison High School. She was so good that she landed a scholarship at Tuskegee Institute in 1939. Despite her parents not wanting her to pursue athletics, they allowed her to join Tuskegee. 

There, she was a student-athlete and also took on more work as a cleaner and equipment maintenance. The young athlete was as good in studies as she was in sport. In 1946, she graduated with a dressmaking degree from Tuskegee. 

Three years later, she got a degree in Home Economics with a minor in science. This allowed her to become a track and field instructor.

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Professional Career

At Tuskegee, Alice Coachman quickly made her mark. Performing barefoot, she broke the high school and long jump records at the Amateur Athletics Union track and field competitions. She dominated track and field, winning 10 national championships between 1939 and 1949. 

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Additionally, Coachman also competed in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 400-meter relays. However, her athletic prowess came at the wrong time in the sense that the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were canceled due to World War I

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Coachman at the Olympics

Alice Coachman: Meet the First Black Woman to Win an Olympic Gold Medal
A sketch drawing of a woman doing a high jump. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons  public domain

Alice Coachman got an opportunity to compete in the biggest sporting event in the world. At the 1948 Olympics, she jumped 5 feet, 6 ⅛ inches, to set a record in the high jump. She was the only American to have won a gold medal at the games. 

When she returned to the United States, she had a couple of parades in her honor, met former American President Harry Truman and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and also had a party. 

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After the Olympics

Due to her success, Alice Coachman earned an endorsement deal with the Coca-Cola Company. She was on billboards with Jesse Owens and became the first African American to promote an international product. 

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Alice Coachman suffered from respiratory complications from a stroke and died of cardiac arrest in 2014. Her achievements aren’t forgotten. 

Alice Coachman’s success was crucial for the African-American community in sports. It showed that they could perform like their white counterparts. Her record brought the country together regardless of skin color. 

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