Alice Marie Coachman (born 9 November 1923 in Albany, Georgia) is an American former athlete. She specialised in high jump, and became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal with her win in the high jump in London in 1948.
The fifth of Fred and Evelyn Coachman’s ten children, Alice Coachman grew up in the segregated South. Barred from public sports facilities because of her race, Coachman used whatever materials she could piece together to practice jumping. Coping with a society that discouraged women from being involved in sports, Coachman struggled to develop as an athlete.
When she reached high school, she easily made the track team. Tuskegee Institute recruiters began to notice her, and her coaches encouraged her to enrol there, thinking it would be an excellent opportunity for her.
By the time she graduated from Tuskegee Institute, she had a trade degree in dressmaking, and had captured four national track and field championship titles in the fifty and hundred-meter dashes, the four-hundred-meter relay, and the running high jump.
In 1948 Coachman joined the American team for the London Olympics. Even after becoming injured during a high jump event, Coachman went on to jump five feet six and one-eighth inches. This was a new record and allowed her to win the only gold medal for the American women’s team.
When she arrived home after the Olympics, most of the major American newspapers didn’t even mention her, but in her hometown they did! She was escorted home and received a warm welcome from friends, family, and the chief of police, who was standing in for the mayor at the time.
Coachman went on to teach physical education for a high school in Albany, Georgia. She had two children and coached their sports teams as they grew up. She was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975.