ON THIS DATE in 1928, sixteen-year-old Betty Robinson became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field.
Robinson (later Betty Schwartz) made her first important run by racing to catch a commuter train in Illinois. A biology teacher at Thornton High School in Harvey, Illinois, witnessed her train-catching speed and suggested they start running together.
After just four official races, Robinson found herself the youngest woman competing in the 100-yard-dash at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. She won the event with a then-record time of 12.2 seconds, making her the first female winner of an Olympic gold medal in track and field. Prior to 1928, women had been excluded from Olympic track events.
Three years later, Robinson sustained injuries in a plane crash that threatened her future ability to walk, much less run. Unable to crouch down for the sprint position, she ran the third leg on the U.S. 4x100m relay team, which won gold in an upset of the favored German team.