NASHVILLE --- Tennessee State University graduate and track and field legend Wilma Rudolph received one of the nation's highest honors when a U.S. postage stamp was issued in her honor this week in a ceremony in Sacramento, Calif.
Henry A. Pankey, the U.S. Postal Service vice president who dedicated the stamp, said, "We are delighted to honor Wilma Rudolph's accomplishments, both on and beyond the track, as part of our Distinguished Americans stamp series. Wilma Rudolph was simply amazing. She overcame a number of debilitating illnesses to become one of this nation's greatest athletes. She taught us, among other things, not to allow our circumstances to hinder our potential to succeed."
The twenty-three cent stamp, good for post cards and the second-ounce first-class letter rate, was dedicated during a press conference in Sacramento on Wednesday. A second dedication was held in Clarksville, Tenn., where she grew up, on Thursday. The dedication in Sacramento was a part of festivities around the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field. Attending the ceremonies were several U.S. Olympic medallists as well as some of the celebrated Tennessee State Tigerbelle Olympians. The stamp will be available at post offices nationwide July 15.
"Wilma Rudolph was truly a lady of gold, a dynamic and inspirational alumna of Tennessee State," said James A. Hefner, president of TSU. "She was a heroine to be emulated by young people everywhere, a champion who taught us all to reach within ourselves and bring forth our best. It is fitting that she be honored in this way and for her triumphant story to continue to be told through the ages."
Wilma Rudolph overcame childhood double pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio and became the fastest female track runner in the world. She was discovered, recruited and developed under the tutelage of Tennessee State Tigerbelle coach, Edward S. Temple. In the summer of 1954, she began her training while still a junior at Burt High School in Clarksville, Tenn., at the summer women's track program at TSU.
At the age of 16, while still a student at Burt High, Coach Ed Temple took her and other Tigerbelles to the 1956 National AAU Trials. Rudolph and her teammates won all five of the events to capture Tennessee State's first outdoor national track championship. Rudolph set American records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She also helped establish an American mark by anchoring the 4 x 100-meter relay.
Rudolph earned All-American honors with these victories and, along with her Tennessee State University Tigerbelle teammates, qualified in three events for the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne, Australia. At the Melbourne games, they captured a bronze medal with an American record in the 4 x 100-meter relay.
At the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, Rudolph amazed the world by becoming the first female track athlete to win three gold medals in one Olympiad. She won gold in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 4 x 100-meter relay, gaining immediate world recognition. In winning these medals, Rudolph and her Tigerbelle teammates established three world records.
Upon her return to segregated Clarksville, Rudolph declined to participate in two separate parades in her honor. Through the power of her international image, she was able to champion the integration of Clarksville.
Rudolph, a 1963 graduate from TSU in the College of Education, received the coveted Babe Dedrickson Zaharris Trophy for outstanding Olympic performance, was twice named Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1960, 1961) and was the first female to win the James E. Sullivan Award for the top USA Amateur Athlete.
She has been named to numerous halls of fame, including the Tennessee State University, Tennessee Sports, USA Track & Field and Olympic halls of fame. She was invited to visit the White House by five U.S. presidents: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George Bush and Bill Clinton. Clinton honored her with a National Sports Award; she was the only woman to receive this prestigious award.
Rudolph died on Nov. 12, 1994, at her home in Brentwood, Tenn., the same year she was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 1995, TSU dedicated the newly built Wilma Rudolph Residence Center in her honor.
The Rudolph stamp is fifth in the Distinguished Americans series. It was designed by Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, Ariz. Artist Mark Summers of Waterdown, Ontario, Canada, created the portrait for the stamp, referencing a photograph of Rudolph taken after she won three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Summers was also the artist for the first four stamps in the Distinguished Americans series: Joseph W. Stilwell (2000), Claude Pepper (2000), Hattie W. Caraway (2001) and Edna Ferber (2002).