Born in Griffin, in Spalding County, on August 29, 1945, Wyomia Tyus was the first person to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter dash. Her father, dairy farmer Willie Tyus, encouraged his only daughter to compete in sports, although her mother, Marie, felt participation in sports was unladylike. Tyus began her high school sports career playing basketball. She enjoyed the competition so much that she decided to try the high jump for the track and field team. Though she struggled at the high jump, she realized she had a natural talent for running.
Edward Stanley Temple, coach of the legendary Tigerbelles at Tennessee State University (TSU), noticed Tyus at the 1961 Georgia High School State Track Championships. Only fifteen years old, Tyus impressed Temple with her drive and determination. Temple invited Tyus to his summer track and field camp in Nashville, Tennessee. The next year Temple took Tyus to the 1962 Girls’ Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships, where she set a new American record in the 100-yard dash. In 1963 she won her age group in the 100-yard dash for a second time and competed in her first AAU senior meet, finishing second in the 100-yard dash to Edith McGuire.
Also in 1963, Tyus accepted a scholarship to TSU. Now officially a Tigerbelle, Tyus continued to train and excel under the influence of Temple. She won a number of AAU titles, including the 100-yard/meter dash three times (1964, 1965, and 1966) and the 220-yard dash twice (1966 and 1967). In 1964 Tyus narrowly earned a spot on the Olympic team, which traveled to Tokyo, Japan, for the games. She captured the gold in the 100-meter dash and anchored the second-place 400-meter relay team at only nineteen years of age. After the Olympics Tyus’s mother tried again to discourage the young champion, but Tyus wanted another Olympic gold medal.
During the Mexico City games in 1968, Tyus faced an atmosphere of racial tension. African American athletes threatened to boycott the games. Although the boycott never occurred, two sprinters, bronze medalist John Carlos and gold medalist Tommie Smith, were suspended from the U.S. team for raising a Black Power salute during their victory ceremony. For Tyus the 1968 games were personally and professionally important. She won gold in the 100-meter dash for a second consecutive time, something no one else did until Carl Lewis competed twenty years later, and she also proved herself the fastest woman in the world for a second time. In response to the suspension of her fellow athletes, Tyus’s 400-meter relay team, which won the gold medal and set a new record, dedicated their medal to Carlos and Smith.
After the 1968 Olympics Tyus retired to Los Angeles, California, married Duane Tillman, and had a daughter, Simone, and a son, Tyus. In 1973 she was invited to compete in the 60-yard dash in the new Professional International Track Association competitions. Her first year back she won eight of eighteen events, but the following year she won every event she entered, a total of twenty-two races. Tyus went on to coach at Beverly Hills High School and was a founding member of the Women’s Sports Foundation, for which she also served as an advisory board member. One of the most popular runners in history, Tyus capitalized on her celebrity by serving as a goodwill ambassador to Africa. She has been inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1976), the National Track and Field Hall of Fame (1980), and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame (1981).