Saturday 7 December 2019

Black Olympian legend Alice dies

Alice Coachman Davis clears a 5ft bar to win the running high jump in Grand Rapids, Iowa, in 1948 (AP)
Alice Coachman Davis clears a 5ft bar to win the running high jump in Grand Rapids, Iowa, in 1948 (AP)
Olympic swimming great John Nabor interviews Alice in 2012 (AP)

Alice Coachman Davis, t he first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, has died in south Georgia at 90.

She won Olympic gold in the high jump at the 1948 games in London with an American and Olympic record of 1.68 metres (5.51ft), according to USA Track and Field, the American governing body of the sport. She was inducted to the USA Track and Field Hall of fame in 1975 and the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.

"Going into the USOC Hall of Fame is as good as it gets," she said in 2004.

Davis was the only American woman to win a gold medal at the 1948 games. Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said she was honoured with a 175-mile motorcade in Georgia when she returned from London, but the black and white audiences were segregated at her official ceremony in Albany.

Recollecting her career in the 2004 interview, Davis speculated that she could have won even more Olympic medals, but the Olympics were not held in 1940 or 1944 because of the Second World War. She retired at 25 after her London victory.

"I know I would have won in 1944, at least," she said. "I was starting to peak then. It really feels good when Old Glory is raised and the National Anthem is played."

Davis attended Tuskegee University and also played basketball on a team that won three straight conference basketball titles. She won 25 national athletics championships - including 10 consecutive high jump titles - between 1939 and 1948, according to USA Track and Field.

Growing up in the deep South during the era of segregation, Davis had to overcome multiple challenges.

The New Georgia Encyclopedia says she was banned from using public sports facilities because of her race, so she used whatever equipment she could cobble together to practise her jumping.

"My dad did not want me to travel to Tuskegee and then up north to the Nationals," she said. "He felt it was too dangerous. Life was very different for African-Americans at that time. But I came back and showed him my medal and talked about all the things I saw. He and my mom were very proud of me."

Davis won her first national high jump title at 16 according to USA Track and Field, and worked as a school teacher and athletics coach after retiring.

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