Alice Coachman, the first black woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal, passed away on Monday in Albany, Georgia, at the age of 90, according to the New York Times.
Coachman won gold at the 1948 Olympic Games in the high jump and certainly overcame mountains of obstacles on her way to competition. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about her incredible life.
1. She lept her way to a Gold medal on the first shot: Coachman set a record on her first jump of the high jump finals at the 1948 Games in London, according to biography.com. “I didn’t know I’d won,” Coachman later said. “I was on my way to receive the medal and I saw my name on the board. And, of course, I glanced over into the stands where my coach was and she was clapping her hands.”
2. Her inspirational win set the scene for one heck of a party: King George VI awarded the newly-minted Olympic champion with her medal and she was extended an invitation to board a British Royal Yacht, according to the New York Times. She was also thrown a party by Count Basie, congratulated by President Harry S. Truman at the White House and arrived to her hometown in Albany, Georgia, via a motorcade that started in Atlanta.
3. Segregation still ran rampant in the South when Coachman arrived home from London. Blacks and whites sat separately in the auditorium in Albany where she was honored, Coachman was forced to leave through a side door after the ceremony and the mayor refused to shake her hand, though he did attend, according to the Times.
4. She was the first black woman to endorse a national product, which, technically, makes her the first professional black female athlete. Coca Cola put her on their payroll in 1952 and she earned $500, according to NBC Sports.
5. She was inducted into two halls of fame: Coachman was welcomed into both the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004, according to BBC News.
6. She is an official part of Women’s History Month: She was named a Women’s History Month honoree in 2002 by the National Women’s History Project, according to the organization’s website.
7. Her peak performance came before she won gold. Coachman felt she was at her peak at the age of 16 in 1939, but she wasn’t able to compete in the Olympics at the time because the Games were canceled due to WWII, according to NBC Sports. “I was right at my peak in 1944,” she told the Associated Press in 1996 via NBC. “I could have won at least two gold medals there.”
8. Her lucky charms were lemons: According to NBC, Coachman would suck on lemons to fend of dehydration when it was hot during competition.
9. She was often confused with another Olympian. Coachman said that when she told people she was the first to win gold, the usual response was disbelief because most thought that runner, Wilma Rudolph, was the first black woman to take the gold home in 1960, according to NBC. “They’ll say, ‘You won it? No, you didn’t win it. It was the other girl who won it,'” she told the AP.
10. Her spirit helped her reach Olympic greatness despite being denied basic training tools. Because Coachman was brought up in the segregated South, she was denied any formal training and wasn’t allowed to participate in organized events, according to biography.com. Instead, she ran barefoot in fields and on dirt roads and trained on any equipment she could get her hands on.