(November 9, 1923–July 14, 2014)
Alice Coachman Davis was an American athlete and the first black woman to win the Olympic gold medal in high jump.
Alice Coachman was from Albany, Georgia, the fifth child of Fred and Evelyn Coachman’s ten children. 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 to develop as an athlete.
Coachman received encouragement from her fifth-grade teacher, Cora Bailey, at Monroe Street Elementary School and from her aunt, Carrie Spry, who defended her niece’s interest in sports in the face of parental reservations.
In 1938, when Coachman enrolled in Madison High School, she immediately joined the track team. The Madison boys’ track coach, Harry E. Lash, recognized and nurtured her talent. She quickly attracted the attention of the Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she enrolled in the high school program in 1939. Even before classes started, she competed in and won her first Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championship in the high jump.
That day she broke the AAU high school and college women’s high jump records while barefoot. She won the AAU outdoor high jump championship for the next nine years, also winning three indoor high jump championships. Coachman excelled in the sprints and basketball as well; competing at Tuskegee Institute from 1940 to 1946. There she won national track and field championships in the 50 and 100-meter dashes, the 4 X 100 meter relay, and the running high jump; and as a guard, she led the Tuskegee basketball team to three consecutive conference championships.
At Albany State College in Georgia, Coachman continued high jumping in a personal style that combined straight jumping and the western roll technique.
At the 1948 Olympics in London, her teammate Audrey Patterson earned a bronze medal in the 200-meter sprint to become the first Black woman to win a medal.
In the high jump finals Coachman leaped 5 feet 6 1/8 inches (1.68 m) on her first try. Her nearest rival, Britain’s Dorothy Tyler, matched Coachman’s jump, but only on her second try, making Coachman the only American woman to win a gold medal in that year’s Games.
Altogether she won 25 AAU indoor and outdoor titles before retiring in 1948.
In 1952, she became the first African American woman to sponsor a national product, after signing an endorsement deal with Coca Cola.
Coachman’s post-Olympic life centered on teaching elementary and high school, coaching, and working briefly in the Job Corps. She also taught physical education at South Carolina State College, Albany State College, and Tuskegee High School. Coachman retired from teaching in 1987.
Coachman was one of 12 torchbearers for the Atlanta Olympic games in 1996. She was also inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.
Alice Coachman died on July 14th, 2014 in Alabama.
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