She was one of 19 children of a poor black family from Tennessee, U.S.A.
In the 1956 Melbourne Games, Wilma Rudolph won the bronze in the 4x100 m relay. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Wilma, nicknamed 'the black gazelle' for her grace and beauty, won the 100 m and the 200 m sprints, besides anchoring the American team to victory in the 4x100 m relay. The very next year she set a new world record of 11.2 seconds in the 100 metres.
It was hard to believe that the slender 20-year-old had contracted double pneumonia and scarlet fever at the age of four and temporarily lost the use of her left leg. She couldn't walk till the age of seven.
Her story of triumph over adversity, and her success, inspired many young black girls in the U.S.A. to take up athletics. One of them, Wyomia Tyus, won the 100 m, both in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.
Wilma was the first woman to run the 200 metres in under 23 seconds.