Alice Coachman, who became the first black woman to win an
Olympic gold medal when she captured the high jump for the United States at the
1948 London Games, died on Monday in Albany, Ga. She was 90.
Her daughter, Evelyn Jones, said she had been treated at a nursing home for a
stroke in recent months and went into cardiac arrest after being transferred to
a hospital on Monday with breathing difficulties.
Coachman (who was later known as Alice Coachman Davis) received her medal from
King George VI. She was invited aboard a British Royal yacht, she was
congratulated by President Harry S. Truman at the White House, and Count Basie
gave a party for her. She was lauded in a motorcade that wound its way through
Georgia from Atlanta to her hometown, Albany.
But she had returned to a segregated South. Blacks and whites were seated
separately in the Albany city auditorium when she was honored there. The mayor
sat on the stage with her but would not shake her hand, and she had to leave by
a side door.
As a youngster in Albany, she had run and jumped barefoot, using ropes and
sticks for makeshift high jumps. She had not been allowed to train at athletic
fields with whites.
“You had to run up and down the red roads and the dirt roads,” Coachman told The
Kansas City Star. “You went out there in the fields, where there was a lot of
grass and no track. No nothing.”
At a time when there were few high-profile black athletes beyond Jackie Robinson
and Joe Louis, Coachman became a pioneer. She led the way for female
African-American Olympic track stars like Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford,
Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“I made a difference among the blacks, being one of the leaders,” she told The
New York Times in 1996. “If I had gone to the Games and failed, there wouldn’t
be anyone to follow in my footsteps. It encouraged the rest of the women to work
harder and fight harder.”
Alice Marie Coachman, one of 10 children, was born in Albany on Nov. 9, 1923, to
Fred and Evelyn Coachman. She ran track and played baseball and softball with
the boys when she was young, but her father, a plasterer, was angered by her
refusal to be ladylike and sometimes whipped her for pursuing athletics.
She saw little prospect of an athletic career and thought of becoming a musician
or a dancer, having been enthralled by the saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and by
Shirley Temple. But she was encouraged by a fifth-grade teacher and an aunt to
continue in sports, and she came to the attention of the Tuskegee Institute in
Alabama while competing for her high school track and field team in Albany.
Coachman moved to Tuskegee and competed for the institute’s high school and
college teams and later for Albany State College (now Albany State University).
She captured the Amateur Athletic Union high jump championship 10 consecutive
times, from 1939 to 1948, and the union’s 50-meter outdoor title from 1943 to
1947. She also won national championships in the 100-meter dash and the
But Coachman had to wait until 1948 to compete in the Olympics; the 1940 and
1944 Games were canceled because of World War II. On a rainy afternoon at
Wembley Stadium in London in August 1948, she vied for gold in the high jump
with Dorothy Tyler of Britain. They both cleared 5 feet 6 1/8 inches, but
Coachman won because she did it on her first try. Micheline Ostermeyer of France
Coachman, the only American woman to win gold in track and field at the London
Games, remembered the moment long afterward.
“I saw it on the board, ‘A. Coachman, U.S.A., Number One,’ ” she told NPR. “I
went on, stood up there, and they started playing the national anthem. It was
wonderful to hear.”
Coachman’s track and field career ended with the 1948 Olympics, when she was 24.
She raised a family, became an elementary and high school teacher, and created
the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to aid young athletes and former
competitors in financial need.
She is survived by her daughter and a son, Richmond, from her first marriage, to
N. F. Davis, which ended in divorce; a sister, Dicena Rambo; one grandchild; and
two great-grandchildren. Her second husband, Frank Davis, died about five years
ago, her daughter said.
Coachman was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the
National Track and Field Hall of Fame. There is an Alice Coachman Elementary
School in Albany.
Coachman faded from public view after the 1948 Olympics, but her pride remained
“Go anyplace and people will tell you Wilma Rudolph was the first black woman to
win a medal — it’s not true,” she said in an interview with The Birmingham News
in 1997, referring to Rudolph’s three gold medals in the sprints at the Rome
Olympics. “She came on the scene 12 years later. But she was on television.”
A version of this article appears in print on July 15, 2014, on page A23 of the
New York edition with the headline: Alice Coachman, 90, Dies; Groundbreaking
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- The IOC formally stripped Marion Jones of her
five Olympic medals Wednesday, wiping her name from the record books following
her admission that she was a drug cheat.
The International Olympic Committee also banned the disgraced American athlete
from attending next year's Beijing Olympics in any capacity and said it could
bar her from future games.
Jones had already handed back the three gold medals and two bronze she won at
the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Last month, the International Association of Athletics Federations erased all of
Jones' results dating to September 2000, but it was up to the IOC to formally
disqualify her and take away her Olympic medals.
The decision was announced by IOC president Jacques Rogge at the end of a
three-day executive board meeting.
Jones won gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 1,600-meter relay in
Sydney, and bronze in the long jump and 100-meter relay. She was the first
female track and field athlete to win five medals at a single Olympics.
In addition to those medals, the IOC also disqualified Jones from her
seventh-place finish in the long jump at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The IOC postponed a decision on redistributing her medals, including whether to
strip her American relay teammates and to upgrade doping-tainted Greek sprinter
Katerina Thanou to gold in the 100.
After long denying she ever had used performance-enhancing drugs, Jones admitted
in federal court in October that she started using steroids before the Sydney
Games. She said she'd used the designer steroid "the clear" from September 2000
to July 2001.
The executive board declared Jones ineligible for the Beijing Games "not only as
an athlete but also in any other capacity."
Jones has retired as an athlete and is banned by U.S. officials from competition
for two years. But the IOC wants to keep her from going to the Olympics as a
coach or in any other role, and said she could face a lifetime Olympic ban
pending the outcome of the BALCO investigation.
Jones' doping admission came as part of her guilty plea to lying to federal
investigators in the BALCO case about using steroids. She will be sentenced Jan.
11 and is expected to face a term of between three and six months.
Jones becomes the fourth American athlete in Olympic history to have a medal
taken away by the IOC, and the third for a doping offense.
Jerome Young was stripped of his 1,600-meter relay gold from the Sydney Games
for an earlier doping violation; swimmer Rick DeMont lost his gold in the
400-meter freestyle from the 1972 Munich Games after testing positive for a
banned substance in his asthma medication, and Jim Thorpe was stripped of his
pentathlon and decathlon gold medals in 1912 when it was revealed he earned $25
a week playing minor league baseball. The IOC reinstated Thorpe in 1982 and
returned his medals to his children the following year.
The reshuffling of Jones' medals could affect the medal status of more than
three dozen other athletes.
IOC officials said they need more details from the ongoing BALCO probe to
determine whether any other Olympic athletes were linked to the scandal.
There is reluctance among some IOC officials to upgrade Thanou, who finished
second behind Jones in the 100. Thanou later served a two-year ban after failing
to show for drug tests in the leadup to the 2004 Athens Olympics.
One option under consideration is leaving the gold medal spot vacant.
The bronze medalist in the 100 in Sydney was Tanya Lawrence, with fellow
Jamaican Merlene Ottey fourth.
In the 200, Pauline Davis-Thompson of the Bahamas took the silver behind Jones.
Sri Lanka's Susanthika Jayasinghe was third and Jamaica's Beverly McDonald
The IOC said it will offer Jones' eight relay teammates a hearing to make their
case for keeping their medals.
The 1,600-relay team included Jearl-Miles Clark, Monique Hennagan, LaTasha
Colander-Richardson and Andrea Anderson. Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen
Perry and Passion Richardson were on the 400-relay squad.
Jamaica took silver behind the United States in the 1,600 relay. Russia was
third and Nigeria fourth. In the 400 relay, France was fourth behind the
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -- Al Oerter, the discus great who won gold medals in
four straight Olympics to become one of track and fields biggest stars in the
1950s and '60s, died Monday. He was 71.
Oerter died at a hospital near his Fort Myers Beach home, his wife Cathy Oerter
said. He had dealt with high blood pressure since he was young and has struggled
with heart problems, she said.
''He was a gentle giant,'' she said. ''He was bigger than life.''
Oerter won gold medals in 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968. Oerter and Carl Lewis are
the only track and field stars to capture the same event in four consecutive
Olympics. Oerter, however, is the only one to set an Olympic record in each of
Born in New York City, Oerter eschewed coaching and conventional training
methods to mold himself into a fierce competitor who performed his best when the
stakes were highest.
''I can remember those games truly as if they were a week ago,'' Oerter told The
Associated Press last year.
In Melbourne in 1956, Oerter threw 184 feet, 11 inches on his first toss and
watched in amazement when nobody else, including teammate and world-record
holder Fortune Gordien, came close to beating him.
He came from behind to win again in Rome, and overcame torn rib cartilage and
other injuries to make it three in a row at the Tokyo Games in 1964.
At 32, he was a long shot in the 1968 field headed by world-record holder Jay
Silvester. However, Oerter responded with a personal-best 212 feet, 11 inches to
leave Mexico City with the gold.
He came out of retirement and won a spot as an alternate on the 1980 team that
didn't compete because of the boycott ordered by President Carter.
Later in life, Oerter discovered a new passion and took up abstract painting.
Oerter maintained a tie to the Olympic movement through Art of the Olympians, a
program he founded to give him and other former Olympians who've taken up art to
showcase their work.
''Al approached the art world the same way he approached the sports world,''
said friend and former Olympian Liston Bochette. ''He studied it. He analyzed
it. And he sought excellence in the arts.''