A half-century after her triumph, a record-setting Olympic champion receives her due.
Tyus, a founding member of the Women’s Sports Foundation, remains largely unknown even among American sports fans. This is partly because of her race and gender, as she came of age during a period when black females were rarely given due credit or offered much opportunity. But it may also be partly because of her personality. She was an unassuming woman from the rural South who didn’t care much about anything but running, rarely called attention to herself, and found herself overshadowed by larger-than-life figures in turbulent times. Her 1968 triumph in the 100-yard dash made her the first athlete to win gold medals in the same event in successive Olympics and followed her surprising, record-breaking win in 1964. However, that feat remains overshadowed by “Olympic protestors Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who shocked the upper echelons of the Olympic world and thrilled activists everywhere by raising their black-gloved fists on the medal stand to protest human rights violations at home and abroad.” Tyus received little notice when she dedicated her subsequent medal in the relays to them, and she felt slighted by the failure to acknowledge what she had done. Yet the author is by no means a complainer; much of the narrative’s charm derives from the author’s down-to-earth nature. Her memoir, written with co-author Terzakis (English and Creative Writing/Cañada Coll.), is also a testimonial to Ed Temple, track coach of the Tennessee State University Tigerbelles, who also served as Tyus’ Olympic coach. He discovered and trained her when she was a small-town teenager with more ability than technique, and he instilled life lessons that went well beyond track and field. Tyus may never have generated the same attention as the more ebullient Wilma Rudolph, but she has lived a life of accomplishment and meaning.
An inspirational story that deserves to be told.