Discover the Stories of Two Hometown Legendary Olympic Medalists
Olympic athletes, trailblazers, legendary champions, native daughters, overcomers, gamechangers. All fitting titles for Pat Head Summitt and Wilma Rudolph, who stand in bronze anchoring Liberty Park in their Clarksville, Tenn. hometown.
Pat Head Summitt is a name every basketball fan knows and knows well. This Clarksville native was the fiercest of competitors who served for 38 seasons with the University of Tennessee Lady Vols. While there, she garnered a record 1,098 wins and 8 national championships.
“Though her famous ‘stare’ may be missing, our sculpture hopes to embody her passion and fire,” said sculptor Brett Grill. “She was a rare talent, quickly ascending to the highest reaches of her field, which she dominated throughout her career.” A bronze statue of Coach Summitt was dedicated in Clarksville on June 15, 2018.
In 1976, Summitt won a silver medal in the Summer Olympic Games, the first year that women would play Olympic basketball. In 1984, she coached the U.S. women’s team and earned the gold medal in the Los Angeles Olympiad, making Pat the first U.S. Olympian to both win a medal of her own and coach a medal-winning team.
Twenty years before Summitt’s first Olympic appearance, another Clarksvillian, Wilma Rudolph, was the youngest member of the 1956 U.S. track and field team. Competing in Melbourne at age 16, Rudolph received her first medal, a bronze in the women’s 400-meter relay.
After suffering from pneumonia and polio at age eight, Rudolph heard from doctors that she would never walk again. No one could foresee that in eight years she would earn an Olympic medal, much less become known as the world’s fastest woman in 12 years.
During the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph competed in the 100- and 200-meter races and the 400-meter relay where she received gold medals in all events, becoming the first American woman to receive three gold medals in a single Olympics.
Upon her return to Clarksville, but she informed city officials that she was only willing to attend a biracial, unsegregated welcome home event. Everyone agreed, and in the fall of 1960, Clarksville hosted its first large gathering that involved people of all races.
Rudolph sits bronzed outside of her namesake building, the Wilma Rudolph Event Center, at the entrance to Liberty Park. Created by local artist Howard Brown, a friend of Rudolph’s family, Brown created Rudolph doing what she is best known for, crossing the finish line first.“Clarksville has the unique distinction of being the birthplace of not just one, but two giants of women’s sports in the 20th century,” Mayor Kim McMillan said. “Pat Summitt and Wilma Rudolph were trailblazers, and it’s wonderful to honor their legacies and share their stories for generations