1960: The First Woman To Win 3 Olympic Gold Medals Had Polio

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Medalists in the Ladies 200 meter final at the 1960 Rome Olympics. From left to right, Britain's Dorothy Hyman (bronze), the USA's Wilma Rudolph (gold) and Germany's Jutta Heine (silver). (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Wilma Rudolph was an Olympic gold medalist whose achievements made her an important figure in American sports history and the Civil Rights movement. Rudolph was the first woman to win three gold medals at a Summer Olympics, but she shared the fate of many black athletes of the time: an elite competitor in the arena, but a second-class citizen at home.

Rudolph faced challenges and frustrations as an adult athlete but then, her life had been challenging and frustrating from the start. In her youth, she overcame frailty, illness, and even polio -- a disease that specifically affects the legs. Rudolph was lucky to be able to walk, much less run, yet she proved herself the fastest woman alive in 1960.