Babe Didrikson achieved an unusual feat at the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games, becoming the only athlete ever – male or female – to win individual Olympic medals in separate running, throwing and jumping events. The Texan sprinted to gold in the 80-meter hurdles and threw the javelin for a second gold. Didrikson took silver in the high jump. She broke the previous world record in each event.
She might have won more medals – but at the time women were only permitted to enter three events in any Olympic Games.
As impressive as her Los Angeles Olympic Games performance was, however, it is just a sliver of what made Babe Didrikson one of the greatest athletes ever.
She excelled from an early age. Whether the nickname Babe came from her mother or was a reference to Babe Ruth after Didrikson hit five home runs in a childhood baseball game is up for debate. What is not debatable: Mildred Ella Didrikson reigned supreme at every athletic competition that she tried.
Didrikson first gained acclaim on the basketball court. Hired as a secretary by Employers Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas so that she could play for the company’s Golden Cyclones basketball team, Didrikson led the squad to an AAU national title and twice was named an All-American. At the AAU national track championships, she competed in eight of the 10 events that were held, winning five.
After the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games, Didrikson became serious about golf. She participated in a handful of professional men’s tournaments and dominated the early professional women’s circuits, winning a total of 82 amateur and professional tournaments and leading the LPGA in money winnings for four consecutive years. She met her husband, professional wrestler George Zaharias, when they were paired together at a tournament.
Didrikson also pitched in a handful of Major League Baseball exhibition games and she was a singer and musician (playing the harmonica), recording several records.
Diagnosed with colon cancer in 1953, she had surgery to remove a tumor. Less than four months later, she won her third U.S. Women’s Open golf title by 12 strokes.
Eventually, though, she succumbed to cancer and died in 1955 at age 45.