Mildred McDaniel

Olympic high-jumper

The ultimate in athletic attainment, many believe, is to win an Olympic gold medal with a world record performance. That is what Mildred McDaniel managed in the women's high jump at the 1956 Melbourne Games, where she seized her golden opportunity.

Mildred McDaniel, athlete: born Atlanta, Georgia 3 November 1933; married 1958 Louis Singleton; died Pasadena, California 30 September 2004.

The ultimate in athletic attainment, many believe, is to win an Olympic gold medal with a world record performance. That is what Mildred McDaniel managed in the women's high jump at the 1956 Melbourne Games, where she seized her golden opportunity.

Originally from Atlanta, as a student McDaniel had run and played basketball at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and won her first national high jump title when still in her teens. But she travelled to Australia in November 1956 knowing that the Romanian Iolanda Balas, who had set the world record 1.75 metres in July, was the favourite for the gold medal.

Balas would indeed dominate the event for the next decade, winning two Olympic golds and setting another 13 world records. Yet, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it was McDaniel who triumphed, clearing 1.76m (5ft 91/4in) to beat her closest challengers by the dominant margin of 9cm, as the Romanian and five other jumpers managed just 1.67, with Britain's Thelma Hopkins taking the silver medal as Balas was placed only fifth. It was Balas's last defeat for 10 years in a sequence of 140 victories.

Perhaps the one woman who could challenge her, McDaniel retired from competition after the Olympics, married and became a physical education teacher in California until her retirement in 1993. In 1983, she was inducted into the US track and field Hall of Fame.

Vicki Washington, her niece, said that McDaniel was shy. "In her own way, she didn't like the limelight," she said.

Steven Downes



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