Alice Coachman was the first African American woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics (1948). That year, she was also the only American women to win a gold medal in any Athletics (Track & Field) event.
Growing up in the segregated South, Alice did not have access to coaching, equipment, or a dedicated space to practice her running or jumping. Because she didn’t even have proper shoes or conventional ways of training, she had to kind of wing it on her own. When she was finally noticed by a local coach and able to compete in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) competitions, she broke both high school and college high jump records….barefoot. She continued to dominate the sport (while also winning national championships in the 50 and 100 meter races, as well as the 400 meter relay). She had to wait longer than she wanted to compete at the Olympics due to WWII and the cancellation of the ’40 and ’44 games, but persevered and battled through a back injury in ’48 to set an Olympic high jump record of 5’6.5″