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Alice Coachman, first black woman to win Olympic gold, passes away

Jul 14, 2014, 6:16 PM EDT

Alice Coachman Getty Images

Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, died at age 90 in Albany, Ga., on Monday morning.

Coachman, the 1948 Olympic high jump champion, suffered a stroke in April and died at an Albany hospital, according to Albany’s NBC affiliate.

Coachman won the first of her 10 straight national titles at age 16 in 1939, according to USA Track and Field, but missed the 1940 and 1944 Olympics due to World War II.

“In 1944, I was really ready,” Coachman told The Associated Press in 1996. “I had won the 50-yard dash in the national AAU six consecutive years and the 200 two years straight. I was right at my peak in 1944. I could have won at least two gold medals there.”

Her only Olympic appearance came in London in 1948, when she won gold with an Olympic record jump of 5 feet, 6 1/4 inches before the Fosbury Flop was introduced. King George VI presented the gold medal to her. She made it to and from London by ship.

“Many times I’ve been to places where I’ll tell them I was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and they’ll look at me like I’m crazy,” Coachman told the AP. “They’ll say, ‘You won it? No, you didn’t win it. It was that other girl who won it.'”

Coachman referred to Wilma Rudolph, who won triple sprint gold at the Rome 1960 Olympics.

Coachman, one of 10 children, grew up in Georgia during segregation and broke high school and college high jump records without wearing shoes, according to the AP. Her lucky charms were lemons. She sucked on them in competitions when her mouth ran dry.

She returned home from the London Olympics to a segregated victory ceremony, with blacks and whites on separate sides of the building. The white mayor would not shake her hand.

In 1952, Coca-Cola made her the first black female athlete to endorse an international product. She said she made $500.

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