ALBANY (Georgia) (REUTERS) - Track and field star Alice Coachman, who overcame segregation to become the first black woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic games, has died in the US at the age of 90.
Coachman, who won her gold medal in the high jump at the 1948 summer Olympics in London, died on Monday at a hospital near her home in Albany, Georgia, according to Albany State University.
“Alice literally set the bar with her accomplishments at the 1948 Games, but Olympic champion is only part of the incredible legacy she leaves behind,” United States Olympic Committee chief executive officer Scott Blackmun said in a statement.
“Alice Coachman Davis has inspired generations of athletes to be their best and she will be missed.”
Coachman, who was born in Albany in 1923, the fifth of 10 children, took an interest in high jump after watching a boys track meet and trained herself in the sport using home-made equipment, according to a biography issued by Albany State.
The university said Coachman was denied access to public training facilities because of segregation but worked herself into competitive shape, in part by running barefoot on dirt roads.
After the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled due to World War II, Coachman was able to compete in the Olympics for the first time in 1948 and won the gold medal by setting a record for the high jump.
She won a total of 34 national titles, was inducted into nine halls of fame and became the first black woman to endorse an international product when Coca-Cola signed her as a spokeswoman in 1954, according to Albany State.
She married Frank Davis and was the mother of two children.
“Although she will sorely be missed, her achievements outside the fields of competition are on par with the great accomplishments within the athletics lines,” the university’s athletics director, Mr Richard Williams, told the Albany Herald newspaper.
“We will continue to honour her legacy within the athletics department at Albany State University," he said.