Wilma Rudolph: the fastest woman of the history that was in danger of not being able to walk

When we try to reconstruct the story of Wilma Rudolph, it is very difficult to separate the reality from the myth.

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The childhood and the disease

United States, 1940. Slavery had been abolished officially by more than 70 years. But even in this case, you need to separate the written from the real facts. Because in the deep south of America, tears and violence were still with the cyclic recurrence. On the 23rd of June, the small Wilma came to light in the ghetto of Bethlehem (Clarksville, Tennessee). What could be more distant from the American Dream in that place? In the America that anything was possible, as long as they are white males.

In her first encounter with the world, Wilma weighed only 2 kg, the new addition to a family that had 19 children. His father worked at the station as porters, his mother was a domestic. The existence in that house was a mirage, and the health of the frail Wilma was almost immediately after having survived a double pneumonia and scarlet fever, here is the abyss: just 4 years old, she was diagnosed with polio, a contagious disease (very common at the time), also called infantile paralysis. The first hospital available to treat people of color was far 80 km from his house. To take care of her all the days were the older members of the family, which massaggiavano all the time.

Wilma lost the use of his left leg. Soon she would learn to rely on a metal support to walk; the doctors were categorical: it is impossible to continue walking. But in his head Wilma had already embarked on that slow journey towards Rome in 1960, marked by an innate spirit of love and self-denial. This, the doctors could not know.

“The doctors were telling me that I would never walk again, but my mom say that they were liars. I decided to listen to her.”

Gradually, almost miraculously, her condition improved. In 9 years managed to get rid of this hateful iron that helped her to walk. 11 abandoned the orthopedic shoes that prevented him from falling. Now he walked. Ran.

Wilma starts to run

In a short time he learned the fundamentals of basketball and managed to be admitted in the bracket basket of his high school, setting the record for points (49) with the same glowing force of will that had allowed him to sow his biggest nightmare. On the hardwood, called it “Skeeter” (mosquito) because of its speed that made it impregnable. But the ball segments are rilvelò soon to be a limit to the energy insane that Wilma could unleash on the field.

The track coach of Tennessee State was bewitched by the speed of Wilma. He decided to train even though she had not yet the minimum age enough to iscrirversi to the college. He felt duty-bound to extract a diamond from the mud, clean it up and make it shine. In the space of a few years the whole world could will make your eyes shine in front of the new stone shiny, that fate had tried to keep buried for too long.

Already at 16 years Wilma Rudolph got a bronze olympic medal on the track in Melbourne in the 4×100 relay. The helpless creature that came out of the womb weighing only 2 kg and there was more: from that performance, Wilma Rudolph was nicknamed “the Gazelle” Black: was high 1.80 m, had legs endless, a grace unattainable.

Wilma RudolphEurosport

The triple gold at Rome 1960

In 1960, the world was poured out on Rome. The economic boom, progress, and the first notes strum of the rock. And then the ferment of the public who expected the great promise, that he did not know, once again, divide between history and legend. Perhaps even Wilma was never able to do so. But the track on which ran the 200 meters of him showed him clearly: his shoulders Jutta Eine, the history of the past, in front of her legend.

Video – Wilma Rudolph: the extraordinary 200 metres at the 1960 Rome


She beat the German to 4 tenths of an eternity. He continued to shine in the 4×100 relay, while 3 days before he made the world record on the 100 meters, never considered officially by the Olympic Committee due to the excessive force of the wind is defined as the discriminant. But no matter, it will beat that record a year later. Because when you call Wilma Rudolph, what you discriminate against, it pushes you to run faster. Condemned in the starting blocks, medicine, prejudice and misfortune, the Rudolph took his revenge through the most humble perseverance:

“Believe me, the victories do not taste the same if you don’t sweat to earn a bit either.”

The one that was called “the fastest woman in history” he withdrew almost immediately, in 1962; he felt that his message and his story to tell were more important to continue to win. It was entered in the televisions of americans and the whole world, attending the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Chatted with then-President John Fitzgerald Kennedy at the White House, bringing his mother with him. Wilma is still today one of the symbols most relevant to the struggle for civil rights and the cause of the african-american. Is remembered for having fought the segregation of Clarksville, the city where he spent his childhood, and Muhammad Ali has repeatedly considered as an example to follow. Racial discrimination is, for her, will always remain an issue of relevance:

“We all grew up watching these injustices….These deep scars you will heal never.”

Wilma Rudolph was the disappearance in 1994, the victim of a brain tumor. A life spent in the service of others, of minorities not represented, of the girls who, like her, were seeking an opportunity to run fast. Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee, legend of athletics, he will say of you on the occasion of his funeral:

“He built the foundation for all those girls who want to become great athletes, though none of them can ever be compared to Wilma. The hell from which it is taken away, and the victories which he has won are the most large of all that I will ever realize.”