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Didrikson, Babe (26 June 1914?–27 September 1956), athlete, was born Mildred Ella Didriksen in Port Arthur, Texas, the daughter of Ole Nickolene Didriksen, a ship’s carpenter and cabinetmaker, and Hannah Marie Olsen, an accomplished skater and skier. Didrikson herself was later to change the last syllable of the surname from - ...

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Griffith-Joyner, Florence (21 December 1959–21 September 1998), track and field star, was born Delorez Florence Griffith in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Robert Griffith, an electrician, and Florence Griffith (maiden name unknown), seamstress. When “Dee Dee” (as she was nicknamed) was four, her parents divorced and she moved with her mother and siblings to a housing project in the Watts section of Los Angeles. She began running while in elementary school at meets sponsored by the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, and by the age of fifteen she had won two consecutive Jesse Owens National Youth Games. As a member of an impoverished but disciplined family, Griffith learned from her grandmother how to style hair and fingernails, and she continued to excel in track and field at David Starr Jordan High School, from which she graduated in 1978....

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Henie, Sonja (08 April 1912–12 October 1969), figure skater and film actress, was born in Oslo, Norway, the daughter of Hans Wilhelm Henie, a wealthy fur trader, and Selma Lochman-Nielsen. In her autobiography Henie described herself as sometimes feeling like a “lottery winner.” If by that she meant that she was born into circumstances allowing her the opportunity to develop into a world-class athlete, she was certainly correct. Her father was a champion sportsman himself and encouraged her to skate and ski from an early age. Once her talent for figure skating became apparent, her parents invested a portion of their wealth in her skating career, providing her with the coaching, dance lessons, costumes, and tutors that allowed her to quit school and concentrate on her sport....

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Jacobs, Helen Hull (06 August 1908–02 June 1997), tennis player and author, was born in Globe, Arizona, the daughter of Roland H. Jacobs, a businessman, and Eula Hull Jacobs. Her mother, a Missourian with roots in the South, was a direct descendant of ...

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Kellerman, Annette (06 July 1887–05 November 1975), swimming, vaudeville, and film star, was born in Sydney, Australia, the daughter of Frederick Kellerman, a musician, and Alice Charbonnet, a concert pianist. A weak child, Kellerman began swimming as physical therapy for a mild case of polio. Feeling more graceful in water than on land in her leg braces, swimming literally became her life. As the strength in her legs increased, she also learned to dive. In 1902 she won her first title as Swim Champion of New South Wales and set a world record of 78 seconds for 100 yards using the newly introduced racing technique of the double-over arm crawl and scissors kick. By her own admission, she also reigned as the champion girl diver of Australia the same year. The next year, she set a world record for the mile at 32:29 minutes, subsequently lowering it to 28:00 minutes. Her first of many record-setting distance swims covered 10 miles in Australia’s Yarrow River. She began professional swimming and diving exhibitions in Sydney, then toured Melbourne and Adelaide....

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Mallory, Molla Bjurstedt (06 March 1884–22 November 1959), tennis player, was born Anna Margrethe Bjurstedt in Oslo, Norway, the daughter of a Norwegian army officer (parents’ names are unknown), and grew up in Christiana, Norway. She began playing tournament tennis at age ten, and in a country where few people participated in the sport, she won the Norwegian national women’s singles championship eight times between 1904 and 1914. In 1904 she entered the world mixed doubles championship in Stockholm with Swedish crown prince Gustav Adolph as her partner, but they lost in the first round of the tournament. Mallory attended a private school in Wiesbaden, Germany, to learn German and later went to school in Paris to learn French. She also studied massage therapy at the Orthopedic Institute in Christiana and went to London in 1908 to work as a masseuse. There, she played in several London tournaments without success, finding the competition much keener than in Norway. In the summer of 1911, Mallory and her sister, Valborg, played in several tournaments in Germany, gaining experience that helped Mallory win a bronze medal in outdoor tennis at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. She played well but lost to Marguerite Broquedis of France, the gold medalist, in the semifinals, 6–3, 2–6, 6–4. When she left Norway for the United States in 1914, she held the women’s singles championship and, with her sister, the Norwegian women’s doubles championship....

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Moody, Helen Wills (06 October 1905–01 January 1998), tennis champion, was born Helen Newington Wills in Centerville, California, to Clarence Alfred Wills, a physician, and Catherine Anderson Wills. She grew up in nearby Berkeley and was educated in area private schools; she also attended a boarding school in Vermont. Wills began playing tennis as a child, instructed by her father, and quickly demonstrated an aptitude for the game. When she turned fourteen in 1919, she was given a membership by her parents in the Berkeley Tennis Club, and a coach there began setting up daily matches for her. Soon she came under the tutelage of tennis champion ...

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Rudolph, Wilma (23 June 1940–12 November 1994), track and field athlete, was born Wilma Glodean Rudolph in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, the daughter of Edward Rudolph, a railroad porter, and Blanche (maiden name unknown), a domestic. Born nearly two months premature and weighing only four-and-a-half pounds, Wilma was a sickly child who contracted both double pneumonia and scarlet fever, which resulted in her left leg being partially paralyzed. Her doctors doubted that she would ever regain the use of her leg. Undaunted, Wilma’s mother made a ninety-mile bus trip once a week with her to Nashville, Tennessee, so she could receive heat, water, and massage treatments. At age five she began wearing a heavy steel brace and corrective shoes to help straighten her leg. After years of physical therapy, at age twelve she was finally able to move about without her leg brace....

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Schwartz, Elizabeth Robinson (23 August 1911–18 May 1999), track-and-field athlete, track‐and‐field athlete, was born and raised in Riverdale, Illinois, near Chicago, the daughter of Harry and Elizabeth Robinson. Known as Betty, Robinson graduated in 1929 from Thornton Township High School in Harvey, where she took part in music, drama, and intramural athletics. In 1928 Charles Price, Robinson's biology teacher and the assistant track‐and‐field coach, spotted the sixteen‐year‐old sprinting for a commuter train and was astonished at her speed. Then after watching her run 50 yards in a school corridor, Price suggested that she participate in Chicago‐area track‐and‐field meets for the powerful Illinois Women's Athletic Club....