...or anywhere else is Olympic Sprinter Wilma Rudolph, home and happy and a feather in America's cap. Turn the page to meet Wilma and her remarkable coach, Ed Temple
WILMA AND ED
In Nashville on Thursday, September 8, Charlie B. (for Betty) Temple got up at 6 o'clock. She dressed and fed Edwina, 4, and Bernard, 7, took the former to stay with Mrs. Woodruff and the latter to summer school and got to her husband's job in the post office by 8. In Rome on September 8 her husband, women's Olympic track coach Ed Temple, got his charges Martha, Lucinda, Barbara and Wilma fed, checked their warmups and rubdowns and whether they had their starting blocks, and watched them go out and win another gold medal. Martha Hudson, Barbara Jones, Lucinda Williams and Wilma Rudolph are four (the record-breaking relay team) of the eight Tennessee State Tigerbelles who among them about made up the U.S. women's Olympic track team. They went to Rome undefeated and returned with a world record, three Olympic records and three gold medals—more gold medals, as Temple points out, than were won by 75 of the countries participating in the Games, including Great Britain, France, Spain, Argentina and Canada. Tennessee's effervescent Ralph Boston, of course, allows the university to claim a fourth, for his smash through Jesse Owens' broad-jump record. "Hey Ralph," a porter shouted in Chicago, when Boston stopped there on his way home, "Jesse mad at you?" "No, man, he's a cool cat!"
The star at the top of the whole Christmas tree is Wilma Glodean Rudolph—Skeeter Rudolph, who won two of the three gold medals herself and anchored the relay team that broke the world record for the third. A slender 5 feet 11 inches, Wilma Rudolph can command a look of mingled graciousness and hauteur that suggests a duchess but, in a crowd that is one part Skeeter and 5,000 parts people, young men and babies will come to her in 30 seconds. Her manners are of a natural delicacy and sweetness as true as good weather. She tore up Rome, then Greece, England, Holland and Germany. In Cologne it took mounted police to keep back her admirers; in Wuppertal, police dogs. In Berlin her public stole her shoes, surrounded her bus (she boarded it in her bare feet) and beat on it with their fists to make her wave. Autograph hunters jostled her wherever she went, and she was deluged with letters, gifts, telegrams and pleas that she stay where she was or come to a dozen cities where she wasn't.
The placid champion
It was reported around the world that all this left La Gazz�lla Nera, La Perle Noire unperturbed; her calm was described with such enthusiasm, in fact, that it was possible to receive the impression that Miss Rudolph has the emotional makeup of a vegetable marrow. It is true that while the rest of the team sweated out the hour before a race Skeeter might go tranquilly to sleep on the rubdown table. "Time come to wake her," Temple says, "she sit up and yawn, pick up a shoe and kind of look at it. I'd be all tied up, but I didn't want to make her nervous. 'Skeeter, you better get that shoe on,' I'd say, and she'd put it on and yawn and look at the other one." And it also is true that the adulation has left her ego untouched. "Skeeter just the same; in fact I think she worse," a schoolmate said with satisfaction when Skeeter, back at school, tried to slither out of some honor. But Skeeter's nerves are not so flaccid that she was unaffected by all the to-do of the post-Olympic tours. As she repeatedly pulled herself together for banquet after banquet and presentation after presentation across the U.S., her look of graciousness slipped. In Chicago's City Hall it was a child sick with lack of sleep who leaned against a wall, waiting for Mayor Daley. At the final celebration in her home town of Clarksville she held up for eight hours of travel, parading, parachute-jumping exhibitions, speeches and the shaking of every hand in town. She hadn't spent a night in her own bed yet, though she had been 10 days in the country. As the ninth hour wore on, Skeeter looked longingly over the heads of the people who were left, out the door into the warm Tennessee night where her own home waited and her best friend, Maxine, to walk her there. But Clarksville's mayor jovially claimed her for the television cameras. She didn't cry. She sat down and signed autographs and said it had been very exciting but she was glad to be home, and she was still there when the rest of the press left to go to bed.
Skeeter is the 20-year-old daughter of Ed Rudolph, a retired porter, and his wife Blanche, who works as a domestic in Clarksville. She is one of 19 children, seven of whom are her full brothers and sisters; the 11 others are children of a previous marriage of her father. However, as her mother points out, no huge number of people has occupied the small house on Kellogg Street at any given time. The age span is great; the girls married early, and the boys went into service. "My boy George Vanderbilt," her mother says, "is at the North Pole, in the Navy. He had eight years of expensive music, and he went into the Navy and started to cook. You never know what your children is going to do."
Double pneumonia and scarlet fever left Skeeter at 4 unable to walk. "It didn't make her cross," her mother recalls. "She tried to play. The other children came and played with her while she sat there in her chair." The bad left leg improved, but it wasn't the only trouble Skeeter had. She was sick often. "It look like everything harder for her than for the other children," her mother says, and says also, "She never have eat anything."
This refrain is picked up by Skeeter's coaches. Burt High School's Clinton Gray says, "Only problem was to get her to eat. She wouldn't eat her lunch, and you'd know she hadn't eaten her breakfast; then she'd practice and practice longer than anybody." And Ed Temple: "She don't eat. And when she does, it's junk—hamburgers and pop." She was too ill to run at all during the 1958 season, and in the 1959 meet with Russia in Philadelphia she badly pulled a muscle in her left thigh.
This last year it has been Skeeter's tonsils. She finally had them out this spring and was good and sick subsequently. They took her to the hospital at Meharry (the Tennessee State University infirmary being like all college infirmaries everywhere—"When they put a hot water bottle on your appendicitis you know they need to go someplace and sit down!"), and exbeau Joe Forest would come back from a visit, fretting to her friend Squirt Saunders, "She won't eat or take her pills or anything." She was up, though, for the Olympics. Now, rested from her bout with the mechanics of glory, she is something to see—and she can be seen clear across the campus, even if she's only having a conversation with a friend. Half her talking time is spent off the ground: she leaps around her vis-�-vis like a puppy, pounding and clutching, and uttering occasional whoops which carry faintly to the transfixed, uninitiated observer.