The US team at the opening ceremony of the 1948 Olympic Games (Getty Images) © Copyright
Iaaf News Monaco

1948 Olympic high jump champion Coachman dies

The IAAF is saddened to learn that Alice Coachman, the 1948 Olympic high jump champion, died in Georgia on 14 July at the age of 90.

Born in November 1923, Coachman won her first national high jump title at the age of 16. She went on to win 25 national titles – including 10 consecutive high jump titles – between 1939 and 1948.

She most likely would have made the US Olympic teams in 1940 and 1944 had both editions of the Games not been cancelled. Instead, she had to wait until the 1948 Games, where she took the title with a US and Olympic record of 1.68m.

In the process, she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She was also the only woman from the US to win a gold medal at the 1948 Games.

Growing up in the deep South during the era of segregation, Coachman had to overcome multiple challenges. She was banned from using public sports facilities because of her race, so she used whatever equipment she could cobble together to practise her jumping.

“My dad did not want me to travel to Tuskegee and then up north to the Nationals,'' she said. “He felt it was too dangerous. Life was very different for African-Americans at that time.

“But I came back and showed him my medal and talked about all the things I saw. He and my mom were very proud of me.”

After retiring from competitive athletics, Coachman worked as a school teacher and an athletics coach.

She was inducted to the USA Track and Field Hall of fame in 1975 and the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004. “Going into the USOC Hall of Fame is as good as it gets,” said Coachman of her induction.

Coachman died following a cardiac arrest, and in recent months she had been receiving treatment at a nursing home for a stroke.