Alice Coachman, First Black Woman Olympic Gold Medalist, Dies at 90

Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, died at age 90 in Albany, Ga., on Monday morning.

Coachman, the 1948 Olympic high jump champion, suffered a stroke in April and died at an Albany hospital, according to Albany’s NBC affiliate.

Coachman won the first of her 10 straight national titles at age 16 in 1939, according to USA Track and Field, but missed the 1940 and 1944 Olympics due to World War II.

“In 1944, I was really ready,” Coachman told The Associated Press in 1996. “I had won the 50-yard dash in the national AAU six consecutive years and the 200 two years straight. I was right at my peak in 1944. I could have won at least two gold medals there.”

Her only Olympic appearance came in London in 1948, when she won gold with an Olympic record jump of 5 feet, 6 1/4 inches before the Fosbury Flop was introduced. King George VI presented the gold medal to her. She made it to and from London by ship.

“Many times I’ve been to places where I’ll tell them I was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and they’ll look at me like I’m crazy,” Coachman told the AP. “They’ll say, ‘You won it? No, you didn’t win it. It was that other girl who won it.’”

Coachman referred to Wilma Rudolph, who won triple sprint gold at the Rome 1960 Olympics.

Coachman, one of 10 children, grew up in Georgia during segregation and broke high school and college high jump records without wearing shoes, according to the AP. Her lucky charms were lemons. She sucked on them in competitions when her mouth ran dry.

She returned home from the London Olympics to a segregated victory ceremony, with blacks and whites on separate sides of the building. The white mayor would not shake her hand.

In 1952, Coca-Cola made her the first black female athlete to endorse an international product. She said she made $500.


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LeBron James will return home to play for Cleveland Cavaliers

Basketball superstar LeBron James is going home. James announced that he will be leaving the Miami Heat to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. James, who is from Akron, Ohio, will be returning to the team who drafted him. From Sports Illustrated: I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just […]

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Alysia Montano Runs in US Track and Field Championships at 34 Weeks Pregnant

This week five-time US national champion Alysia Montano ran at this year’s national championships while only weeks away from giving birth to her first child.

Montano’s clocked in at 2 minutes, 32.13 seconds in the qualifying rounds. Though she placed last in her heat, Montano explained her decision not to sit out this year: “What I found out mostly was that exercising during pregnancy is actually much better for the mom and the baby. … I did all the things I normally do … I just happened to be pregnant. This is my normal this year.”

She’s won 800 national titles in her competitive career, and finish is still pretty remarkable.

I’ll admit that until recently I had an extremely uninformed viewpoint about pregnant women exerting themselves physically. It’s great to see Montano and others in the public eye working against the misinformation.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Not even FIFA is immune: fans show up in Blackface at Ghana game

FIFA, the organization in charge of running the World Cup which is currently taking place in Brazil, is considering investigating German fans who chose to wear blackface when their team played Ghana. Pictures of two men in blackface, who appeared to be cheering for Germany, have been circulating the internet.  From the Daily Mail: FIFA says its […]

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Teen Tennis Star Taylor Townsend Wows at French Open

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Sports Illustrated — For all the statistics that gird that the Roger Federer — Rafael Nadal rivalry, this one gets us every time: they are the exact the same weight. Wait. How can they each weigh 187 pounds? Their bodies are completely different. Just look at their arms. Federer’s have the circumference of car antennae. Nadal looks like he wears muscles as a fashion statement. Those 187 pounds are distributed in such different ways.

Oh, and they’re the same height, too, 6-1 or 185 centimeters. This, too, doesn’t seem right. To the naked eye, Federer appears taller. Even the unfortunate animal metaphors imply difference. Nadal is the bull, burrowing low to the ground; Federer, we’re so often told, has that equine grace.

Add this to the list of tennis’ virtues: it can accommodate such a wide swatch of physiques and body types. Ivo Karlovic and John Isner — both still in the 2014 French Open field, as I write this — are worthy of an NBA front line, standing 6-10 and 6-8 respectively. Meanwhile, David Ferrer, who reached the finals last year, wouldn’t look out of place riding atop California Chrome. With extreme generosity, Ferrer is listed at 5-9, 160 pounds. The differences might be even more pronounced in the women’s game. At 5-3, Dominika Cibulkova, the No. 9-seed who lost to Sam Stosur in the third round, would be in the front row of the class photo. At 6-2, Maria Sharapova, the No. 7-seed, would be in the back row. If the media guides are to be believed, they are in the same weight class.

Which brings us to Taylor Townsend. The 18-year-old from Atlanta has been one of the week one revelations of this tournament, reaching the third round with a funky and sometimes dazzling display of tennis. Here’s Andy Murray’s assessment: “I love the way she plays. This is a player who has a lot of talent. A talent that is rarely seen, either in men or in women.”

One passing glance at Townsend and it’s clear that she takes the stereotype of what a tennis player “should” look like and doesn’t just shatter it; she then grinds it into fine, red clay. Still, observers have gone to extremes not to mention Townsend’s physique. There’s history here, of course. The USTA’s clumsiness on this topic two years ago created a p.r. fiasco that persists.

“Just don’t go there,” one producer was overheard telling an announcer.

Taylor Townsend knocked out top French player Alize Cornet in straight sets in round two.

With some trepidation, we’ll try the opposite tack and go there.

There’s something that is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, dishonest about declaring the topic off-limits for discussion.

“We would never be talking about this if [Townsend] were a man,” a former champion argued to me.

Totally disagree. Not only would we. We do. All the time. The NFL combine is basically a livestock show, where potential investors poke and prod and measure physical attributes of the specimens on display. The first day in any sport’s training camp doubles as an opportunity to assess which players worked out in the offseason and which haven’t. Even in tennis, bodies are on the table for discussion. Sharapova and Murray needed to add body mass; Mardy Fish needed to lose some.

In sports — women’s sports especially — weight is coded as “fitness,” as if to emphasize that we’re not talking leeringly about looks or aesthetics, but, rather, performance. It’s a work-related. Fine, but then we must make this point about Taylor Townsend: the evidence that her physique hinders her tennis is scant at best. In her second round match, she played 30 games over three sets and almost two-and-a-half hours against France’s Alize Cornet (who goes 5-8, 139 pounds) Townsend won thrillingly, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 and was hardly winded.

What about her movement? Cornet hit the ball past Townsend 18 times. Townsend hit the ball past Cornet 43 times. What about back-to-front? Taylor went to the net 30 times and won 21 points. How much better would she be if she got fit, you ask? Says here, that’s a faulty premise. We’re not convinced she’s unfit.

Today, there was little magic left in her wand. In barely an hour, she fell 6-2, 6-2 to Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain. She sprayed shots and made questionable decisions and missed one shot so badly she laughed out loud. But it wasn’t because of compromised mobility or stamina.

If Townsend looks like no other player, she does’t play like one either. A lefty, she serves-and-volleys and charges the net and uses angles that never even occur to other colleagues. She is a tactician and thinker. In the monoculture of baseline bashing, Townsend stands out like the independent bookstore or the authentic burrito joint in a strip filled with Gaps and TGIFridays. Is it possible that her unique physique is ideal for her unique game? Put simply, this is her fighting weight.

What if Townsend’s physique compromises her results or her ranking? What if she’s doing great his week, but, in the long term, she’s putting strain on her body? Well, like all athletes, she’ll have a decision and can adjust accordingly. One top player here switched to a gluten-free diet. Another one had breast reduction surgery. This is what athletes do. Here’s the template; you’re free to make changes.

For now, though, the grass awaits and Townsend will continue on, winning matches and fans in comparable proportion. And if we’re being honest, she is taxing the weight and straining the girth of this old axiom: no cheering in the press box.

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