As February unfolds, we step into a month dedicated to honoring the rich heritage, culture, and contributions of Black people throughout history. Black History Month is not only a time to reflect on the struggles and triumphs of the past but also an opportunity to celebrate the enduring impact that Black individuals have had on society in various spheres.

Within the broader landscape of sports, Black female athletes have carved out a space for themselves, defying stereotypes and forging paths to success. From tennis courts to basketball courts, Black female athletes have demonstrated unparalleled skill, determination, and grace under pressure. Their accomplishments extend beyond the realm of competition, serving as symbols of empowerment and inspiration for young girls and women around the world. From Wilma Rudolph to Florence Griffith Joyner, these trailblazers have shattered barriers and blazed trails for future generations of athletes. Their achievements on the track have not only earned them accolades and recognition but have also opened doors for others to follow in their footsteps.

Let’s dive into just some of the history.

1948: Alice Coachman

Alice Coachman made history at the 1948 London Olympics by becoming the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field. She achieved this milestone in the high jump, where she set an Olympic record with a mark of 1.68 meters (5 feet 6 inches). Coachman’s victory was particularly significant as it occurred during a time of widespread racial segregation and discrimination in the United States.

Alice sits for a headshot in a hat and blazer

1956: Mae Faggs Starr

Mae Faggs Starr secured her place in history at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics by winning gold in the 4x100m relay event as part of the United States women’s track and field team. This victory marked a historic moment as Starr became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a track event.

Mae running in a relay, holding a baton

1960: Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph’s remarkable achievements at the 1960 Rome Olympics solidified her status as a trailblazer. Overcoming childhood polio and racial segregation, Rudolph made history by winning three gold medals in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay events. Her victories made her the first American woman to achieve such a feat.

Wilma holding two medals

1964: Wyomia Tyus

Wyomia Tyus etched her name in the annals of Olympic history at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics by winning gold in the 100m. In doing so, she became the first person, male or female, to secure consecutive Olympic gold medals in the event.

Wyomia poses for a headshot in her Team USA jacket

1988: Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo)

Florence Griffith Joyner, captivated the world with her extraordinary performance at the 1988 Seoul Olympics along with her amazing style. Setting world records in the 100m and 200m sprints with times of 10.49 seconds and 21.34 seconds, respectively, Flo-Jo cemented her legacy as one of the greatest sprinters in history.

Florence holds the USA flag

2012: Carmelita Jeter

Carmelita Jeter showcased her speed at the 2012 London Olympics, where she won gold in the 100m. Jeter’s victory solidified her as one of the fastest women in the world, as she blazed past her competitors with a time of 10.78 seconds. Her remarkable performance underscored her status as a formidable sprinter and served as an inspiration to aspiring athletes everywhere.

Carmelita anchors the USA 4x100m to gold

2016: Elaine Thompson-Herah

Elaine Thompson-Herah made history at the 2016 Rio Olympics by winning gold in both the 100m and 200m sprint events. Her double victory, with times of 10.71 seconds in the 100m and 21.78 seconds in the 200m, made her the first woman since Flo-Jo to achieve this feat. 

Elaine at the Tokyo Olympics

2021: Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix made history at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics by surpassing Carl Lewis as the most decorated American track and field Olympian. With her 11th career Olympic medal, Felix cemented her legacy as one of the greatest athletes of her generation. Throughout her illustrious career, Felix has exemplified excellence, resilience, and dedication, inspiring countless individuals around the world.

Allyson poses with all her medals

We know the list above is short, but we wanted to provide a small glimpse into the expansive history of black female athletes in track and field. We encourage you to continue researching all the names that have changed track and field history.  As we reflect on the remarkable journey of Black female athletes in track and field, let us recommit ourselves to creating a more inclusive and equitable world where all individuals have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and soar to new heights. Their legacy serves as a reminder of the limitless potential that exists within each of us, regardless of race or gender.