Football is the sport that comes to mind most often when thinking about sports in Alabama. I would bet that most of you could name players on one team or another in high school, college, or professional football.
But, did you know that Alabama has many significant athletes with Olympic ties?
Jesse Owens is probably the best known Olympic athlete from Alabama. Owens was from Lawrence County originally, but moved to Ohio State University for college. In 1936, he ruled the Olympics in Berlin. He won gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump, and 4 x 100-meter relay. That record stood until 1984.
In 1984, Carl Lewis, from Birmingham, won gold medals in the same Olympic events that Jesse Owens won. Lewis went on to win four consecutive gold medals in the long jump in 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996, and two consecutive gold medals in the 100-meter dash in 1984 and 1988.
Remember Mia Hamm? Hamm was a popular soccer athlete from the 1990s. Born in Selma, Alabama, Mia (Mariel Margaret Hamm) led her teams to medals in three Olympics. In 1996 at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, in 2000 at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and in 2004 in Athens, Greece. Mia Hamm retired at age 32 in 2004 with 158 goals and 144 assists in international play.
The Auburn Swimming and Diving Program is well represented in international competition. Numerous Auburn swimmers have competed in the Olympic Games and 14 have won 32 medals. Kirsty Coventry of Harare, Zimbabwe, is the most decorated Auburn Olympian. She won seven Olympic medals (two gold medals, four silver medals, and one bronze medal) in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. Rowdy Gaines of Florida won three Olympic gold medals in 1984 and was one of the fastest swimmers in the world during his era.
Alabama native Jennifer Kay Chandler (1959- ), from Langdale, won the gold medal for springboard diving in the 1976 Montreal Olympics at the age of 17. She led from the first dive and won by nearly 50 points over silver medalist Krista Kohler of what was then the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. She also competed in the 1978 World Championships and qualified for the U.S.-boycotted 1980 Olympics but retired soon after.
The information for this article comes from the Encyclopedia of Alabama, a free, online resource on Alabama history, culture, geography, and natural environment. The site offers articles on Alabama's famous people, historic events, sports, art, literature, industry, government, plant and animal life, agriculture, recreation, and so much more. It is sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation, Auburn University, and the Alabama State Department of Education.
By: Wanda Campblell
Center for Lifelong Learning - 121 South Marion Street, Athens, AL 35611 - 256-233-8262