Wyomia Tyus Q&A


Today: Wyomia Tyus-Tillman
By Darryl Maxie

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Claim to fame: Another Olympian produced by the Tennessee State women’s track program of the 1950s and ’60s, Wyomia Tyus became the first athlete to win consecutive gold medals in the 100-meter dash when she followed her 1964 triumph at Tokyo with another in 1968 at Mexico City. A native of Griffin, 40 miles south of Atlanta, Tyus-Tillman has been inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1976), the National Track and Field Hall of Fame (1980), the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame (1981) and the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame (2006). The AJC’s Darryl Maxie caught up with her.

About the Tigerbelles

“Coach [Ed] Temple did it. He put it all together. He recruited the girls and had the talent to see athletes who had potential. By him having the opportunity to offer work aid, young women who couldn’t afford to go to college could go, doing something they liked to do. Tennessee State was the powerhouse, where people would go, people who wanted to be Tigerbelles.”

About a winning ego

[She was once quoted as saying, “I never think about anybody. I let them think about me.”]

“I never looked at that as ego. But I never worried about the competition. I never worried ‘can I beat them or not?’ because that’s not how I was coached. I was coached to focus on me. I didn’t go, ‘oh my gosh, my opponent ran an 11.2 last week. To me, time never mattered because time never crossed the tape. I went in having prepared myself to do the best I can. If my best wasn’t enough, that was OK.”

About winning the gold

“I say it all the time: I was good on that day. Everything was going for me; it all fell into place. I could’ve been the one who was second, third or fourth. I barely made the team. I was No. 3. Marilyn White, who was fourth that day, had been beating me.”

About retiring in ‘68

[“After the Olympics, I didn’t even run across the street.”]

“It was not like I was getting paid. As I finished the Olympics in ‘68, nobody was hiring runners. But nowadays? I was 23 when I retired. Now, they run till they’re 40.”

About wishing she’d been born later, to be pro now

“Not really. I would not trade what I learned, the friendships made, for anything. The camaraderie we had on the track team. I don’t think I could compete in this day. I was used to competing in five meets a year. Now, they run every weekend. That’s a little too much running for me. The only thing I missed was the whole money thing. But you can’t pay money for what I learned being a part of the Tigerbelles.”

About ‘68 Black Power salute, civil rights struggle

“It was something that was needed. It was going to happen somewhere, and it just happened in track. And I was there when it happened. Coach Temple said you had to be aware of what’s going on in the world. I grew up in Griffin, Ga. It was colored water here, colored this, colored that. What they did brought the issue to the forefront, opened up people’s minds. They did it at a time no one expected it. People were talking about killing them then. Now it’s 40 years later, and people talk about it like it was one of the best things.”

very moving! thanks for sharing!