Betty Robinson was just a high school student trying to catch a train home. Her biology teacher, who also coached the school’s boys track team, was already on the train – and he couldn’t believe that Robinson was able to race and make the train.
The teacher and coach, Charles Price, invited Robinson to train with the boys track team. (The school did not field a girls track team.) A few weeks later, at her first-ever track meet, Robinson finished second in the 100-meter dash to American record holder Helen Filkey.
Three months later, in her second race, Robinson beat Filkey in world-record time. Just 16 years old, Robinson would qualify for the Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games and win a gold medal in the 100 – the first ever Olympic competition for women in track and field — and added a silver in the in 4×100-meter relay.
But that was just one of Robinson’s incredible performances. She missed the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games after nearly dying in a plane crash the previous year. Once thought dead, Robinson recovered from significant injuries that resulted in one leg being shorter than the other and prevented her from getting into a runner’s crouch.
Robinson, though, did not give up on her Olympic dream. Unable to get in a stance for the 100, she earned a spot on the 4×100-meter relay team and ran the third leg as the United States claimed gold at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games.
Robinson’s medals and other memorabilia are on display in the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum.