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HBCU Olympians from the past

These trailblazers ran ahead to clear the way for others

Historically black colleges and universities have a rich heritage when it comes to sending athletes and coaches to the Summer Olympics.

According to the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, there have been 44 Olympic athletes from 16 different HBCUs, most of whom competed in track and field. The school that has the most Olympians is Tennessee State University in Nashville, followed by Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, and Morgan State University in Baltimore.

The late American sprinter Wilma Rudolph was the heroine of those Tennessee State teams, known as the Tiger Bells. She became an Olympian at the age of 16 when she competed in the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne, Australia. Rudolph, who was also a great high school basketball player, excelled in sports after recovering from polio at a young age.

In an ESPN biography of Rudolph, Bob Kersee, husband and coach of Olympic legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee, said Rudolph was the greatest influence for female African-American athletes that he knows. His wife went further. “She was always in my corner,” said Joyner-Kersee, winner of six Olympic medals. “If I had a problem, I could call her at home. It was like talking to someone you knew for a lifetime.”

Here is the full list of the 44 HBCU Olympians.

John X. Miller is the senior HBCU editor for Andscape. He's a father, jazz aficionado and die-hard UNC basketball fan.