Alice Coachman, Track and Field Athlete, died at 90

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Alice Marie Coachman American athlete died on July 14, 2014 of cardiac arrest after suffering respiratory problems.

She had a stroke a few months prior for which she received treatment from a nursing home.

She had two children during her first marriage to N. F. Davis, which ended in divorce.

Her second husband, Frank Davis, preceded her in death; her specialty was high jump and was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Born on November 9, 1923 in Albany, Georgia, she was the fifth of Fred and Evelyn Coachman’s ten children.

Raised in the segregated South, Coachman was unable to access athletic training facilities or participate in organised sports because of the colour of her skin.

Coachman attended Monroe Street Elementary School where she was encouraged by her fifth-grade teacher Cora Bailey and from her aunt, Carrie Spry, despite the reservations of her parents.

Upon enrolling at Madison High School in 1938 she joined the track team, working with Harry E. Lash to develop her skill as an athlete.

Within a year she drew the attention of the Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Coachman’s first opportunity to compete on a global stage was during the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

She qualified for the US Olympic team with a high jump of 5 feet 4 inches breaking the previous 16 year old record by ¾ of an inch.

In the high jump finals of the 1948 Summer Olympics, Coachman leaped 1.68 m (5 ft 6⅛ in) on her first try.

Her nearest rival, Great Britain’s Dorothy Tyler, matched Coachman’s jump, but only on her second try.

Coachman was the only American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics in 1948. Her medal was presented by King George VI.

Her athleticism was evident, but her father would whip her when he caught her practicing basketball or running. “Back then,” she told William C. Rhoden of the New York Times in 1995, “there was the sense that women weren’t supposed to be running like that.

My father wanted his girls to be dainty, sitting on the front porch.” When Coachman was in the seventh grade, she appeared at the U.S. track championships, and Tuskegee Institute Cleveland Abbot noticed her.

Abbot convinced Coachman’s parents to nurture her rare talent. Reluctantly at first, her parents allowed her to compete in the Tuskegee Institute relay in the 1930s, where she broke first high school and then collegiate records by the time she was 16 years old.

She went on to win the national championships in the high jump, and 50 and 100 meter races as well.

Coachman’s biggest ambition was to compete in the Olympic Games in 1940, when she said, many years later, she was at her peak.

But World War II forced the cancellation of those games and those of 1944.

The war ended in 1945, clearing the way for the 1948 Summer Games in London.

She won a total of 25 AAU indoor and outdoor titles before retiring in 1948.

 

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