Skip to main content
Original Issue


...or anywhere else is Olympic Sprinter Wilma Rudolph, home and happy and a feather in America's cap. Turn the page to meet Wilma and her remarkable coach, Ed Temple


In Nashville on Thursday, September 8, Charlie B. (for Betty) Temple got up at 6 o'clock. She dressed and fed Edwina, 4, and Bernard, 7, took the former to stay with Mrs. Woodruff and the latter to summer school and got to her husband's job in the post office by 8. In Rome on September 8 her husband, women's Olympic track coach Ed Temple, got his charges Martha, Lucinda, Barbara and Wilma fed, checked their warmups and rubdowns and whether they had their starting blocks, and watched them go out and win another gold medal. Martha Hudson, Barbara Jones, Lucinda Williams and Wilma Rudolph are four (the record-breaking relay team) of the eight Tennessee State Tigerbelles who among them about made up the U.S. women's Olympic track team. They went to Rome undefeated and returned with a world record, three Olympic records and three gold medals—more gold medals, as Temple points out, than were won by 75 of the countries participating in the Games, including Great Britain, France, Spain, Argentina and Canada. Tennessee's effervescent Ralph Boston, of course, allows the university to claim a fourth, for his smash through Jesse Owens' broad-jump record. "Hey Ralph," a porter shouted in Chicago, when Boston stopped there on his way home, "Jesse mad at you?" "No, man, he's a cool cat!"

The star at the top of the whole Christmas tree is Wilma Glodean Rudolph—Skeeter Rudolph, who won two of the three gold medals herself and anchored the relay team that broke the world record for the third. A slender 5 feet 11 inches, Wilma Rudolph can command a look of mingled graciousness and hauteur that suggests a duchess but, in a crowd that is one part Skeeter and 5,000 parts people, young men and babies will come to her in 30 seconds. Her manners are of a natural delicacy and sweetness as true as good weather. She tore up Rome, then Greece, England, Holland and Germany. In Cologne it took mounted police to keep back her admirers; in Wuppertal, police dogs. In Berlin her public stole her shoes, surrounded her bus (she boarded it in her bare feet) and beat on it with their fists to make her wave. Autograph hunters jostled her wherever she went, and she was deluged with letters, gifts, telegrams and pleas that she stay where she was or come to a dozen cities where she wasn't.

The placid champion

It was reported around the world that all this left La Gazzèlla Nera, La Perle Noire unperturbed; her calm was described with such enthusiasm, in fact, that it was possible to receive the impression that Miss Rudolph has the emotional makeup of a vegetable marrow. It is true that while the rest of the team sweated out the hour before a race Skeeter might go tranquilly to sleep on the rubdown table. "Time come to wake her," Temple says, "she sit up and yawn, pick up a shoe and kind of look at it. I'd be all tied up, but I didn't want to make her nervous. 'Skeeter, you better get that shoe on,' I'd say, and she'd put it on and yawn and look at the other one." And it also is true that the adulation has left her ego untouched. "Skeeter just the same; in fact I think she worse," a schoolmate said with satisfaction when Skeeter, back at school, tried to slither out of some honor. But Skeeter's nerves are not so flaccid that she was unaffected by all the to-do of the post-Olympic tours. As she repeatedly pulled herself together for banquet after banquet and presentation after presentation across the U.S., her look of graciousness slipped. In Chicago's City Hall it was a child sick with lack of sleep who leaned against a wall, waiting for Mayor Daley. At the final celebration in her home town of Clarksville she held up for eight hours of travel, parading, parachute-jumping exhibitions, speeches and the shaking of every hand in town. She hadn't spent a night in her own bed yet, though she had been 10 days in the country. As the ninth hour wore on, Skeeter looked longingly over the heads of the people who were left, out the door into the warm Tennessee night where her own home waited and her best friend, Maxine, to walk her there. But Clarksville's mayor jovially claimed her for the television cameras. She didn't cry. She sat down and signed autographs and said it had been very exciting but she was glad to be home, and she was still there when the rest of the press left to go to bed.

Skeeter is the 20-year-old daughter of Ed Rudolph, a retired porter, and his wife Blanche, who works as a domestic in Clarksville. She is one of 19 children, seven of whom are her full brothers and sisters; the 11 others are children of a previous marriage of her father. However, as her mother points out, no huge number of people has occupied the small house on Kellogg Street at any given time. The age span is great; the girls married early, and the boys went into service. "My boy George Vanderbilt," her mother says, "is at the North Pole, in the Navy. He had eight years of expensive music, and he went into the Navy and started to cook. You never know what your children is going to do."

Double pneumonia and scarlet fever left Skeeter at 4 unable to walk. "It didn't make her cross," her mother recalls. "She tried to play. The other children came and played with her while she sat there in her chair." The bad left leg improved, but it wasn't the only trouble Skeeter had. She was sick often. "It look like everything harder for her than for the other children," her mother says, and says also, "She never have eat anything."

This refrain is picked up by Skeeter's coaches. Burt High School's Clinton Gray says, "Only problem was to get her to eat. She wouldn't eat her lunch, and you'd know she hadn't eaten her breakfast; then she'd practice and practice longer than anybody." And Ed Temple: "She don't eat. And when she does, it's junk—hamburgers and pop." She was too ill to run at all during the 1958 season, and in the 1959 meet with Russia in Philadelphia she badly pulled a muscle in her left thigh.

This last year it has been Skeeter's tonsils. She finally had them out this spring and was good and sick subsequently. They took her to the hospital at Meharry (the Tennessee State University infirmary being like all college infirmaries everywhere—"When they put a hot water bottle on your appendicitis you know they need to go someplace and sit down!"), and exbeau Joe Forest would come back from a visit, fretting to her friend Squirt Saunders, "She won't eat or take her pills or anything." She was up, though, for the Olympics. Now, rested from her bout with the mechanics of glory, she is something to see—and she can be seen clear across the campus, even if she's only having a conversation with a friend. Half her talking time is spent off the ground: she leaps around her vis-√†-vis like a puppy, pounding and clutching, and uttering occasional whoops which carry faintly to the transfixed, uninitiated observer.

Skeeter will not say whether she plans to marry Ray Norton, her opposite number on the U.S. men's team, but she does say that she plans to be married within a year. Theirs has been a warm friendship for longer than the press seems to realize: when Skeeter pulled up lame in Philadelphia it was Ray who comforted her amidst the cracked ice, and at the Pan American games in Chicago it was Ray who came asking Temple, "May I take Skeeter to the movies?" "He's a real gentleman, a fine boy," Temple says. "If she decides to marry him, I wouldn't put anything in her way."

Skeeter, home with her family, seeing her friends, answering Ray Norton's letters, is utterly unidentifiable as "Little Miss Queen of All the World." This is the girl, though, of whom Temple said, not so much for the broken records in Rome as for the exhausting later tour, " 'She's done more for her country than what the United States could pay her for."

"But she couldn't have done it alone," he adds. "She's had tremendous competition, the three fastest girls in the country. Take Jones. She ran a world record 10.3 hundred yards at Randall's Island in 1958, although it wasn't official because she ran it against a girl with a handicap. She didn't have no handicap, but she ran with someone out in front. Jones would sometimes beat Rudolph, Williams beat Rudolph, even Hudson was competition right up to the last 25 yards when her little legs give out. Every time trial we had was like a track meet. Rudolph ran the hundred meters in 11.1 in a time trial because of that competition. Without it she wouldn't have won no three gold medals."

This unity and teamwork are Temple's passion. He has instituted a summer clinic so that he can begin work with his girls, and they can begin work with each other, while they are still in the 10th grade in high school. Rudolph, Williams and Hudson, Temple reminds the listener, had been worked together since 1955: last summer's matchless relay team was no stray bit of good fortune. "I want the girls all at once. Jones come down, warm up, Hudson come, she have to warm up. If I got to fool with Hudson, what is Jones going to do? We all got to do the same thing, and keep right together." This means among other things getting to practice on time, about which Temple is a bear. "I make the girls run a extra lap for every minute they're late. Time for practice, they come out, I tell you, T-shirt half on, one shoe off, but they get there. Rudolph overslept 9 o'clock practice one day a whole half hour. The alarm clock don't go off, and at 9:30 she and the manager of the team up there sleepin'. I sat down there at the track with a watch in my hand, and I gave them 30 laps. Rudolph, she went around in pretty good style, but it like to kill that girl Shirbey. Next day they out there sittin' at 8:30. I don't like to come down on accidents, but you let one go, another one is going to come up, and pretty soon everything is going to be disrupted altogether."

Temple runs his seniors against each other and against the juniors, with and without handicaps. It gives the girls coming up experience and poise in their early competitions—nothing that turns up for a junior Tigerbelle is going to rattle her when she has run against Wilma Rudolph. And it keeps a Wilma Rudolph awake because "them young girls is hungry." Both divisions run cross-country, up and down hill, and both go through the same daily calisthenics.

Before the Olympics, Temple had the team out running at 5 in the morning, at 9 in the morning and at 2 in the afternoon, to prepare them for a range of temperature. It was a useful preparation. On the post-Olympic tour they ran in Athens, London, Amsterdam, Cologne, Wuppertal, Frankfurt and Berlin. They ran in rain and cold, sometimes sick from strange food, often on four hours' sleep. They ran against teams which had been resting at home, in meets scheduled for the day their plane came in. "We keep running and we keep winning, I don't know how," Temple wrote to Charlie B. In Cologne the girls ran against the team which had been their closest competition in the Olympics. The Germans were rested and waiting, and so confident that they had scheduled the relay first, to get on with their triumph. "Ed, we're going to lose this one," Team Manager Frances Kaszubski said. "What are we going to do?"

"I got the girls together," Temple says, "and I told them, 'We've got nothing to gain and everything to lose. But you are the champions.' And Hudson got off those starting blocks, and we beat them worse than we did in Rome."

Tennessee State is not this good because it is geographically located in some pocket of natural track talent. It is this good because of Ed Temple. Graduate Tigerbelle Margaret Matthews, for example, broad-jumped for several years with a Chicago club—and the Chicago clubs, strongly supported as they are by Mayor Daley's youth foundation, are excellent—without registering a single AAU mark. With Temple she became the first woman in the U.S. to jump 20 feet, and in the same meet won the 100 meters and anchored the winning 440 relay team.

Rome was Temple's fourth straight appointment as coach of the American women's team (no other coach has been appointed for four consecutive international meets). Besides holding world and Olympic records, his girls have not lost an AAU National meet since 1954. The State Department has asked him to go to Ghana, giving him his choice of a six-month, one-year, two-year or four-year term and, thoughtful about U.S. showings in Rome, reportedly has a considerable interest in his coaching methods.

One might think all this would gladden the heart of Tennessee State. It does, but only to a point. Tennessee is a school where everyone has too much to do, but even by their standards Ed Temple has been working uphill. He conducts two sociology classes six days a week, with attendant planning, test-giving and counseling. He is not paid for his coaching or for the job of running the Tennessee State University post office, and he virtually does not have a track. The TSU track is an oval ribbon of dirt, unmarked and unsurfaced. Skeeter knows it from more than just running. Before the Olympics, Temple got her and the girls out at dawn to line it and himself paid to have it done when the Games got too close and pressure became too great. "He goes down there with a shovel and a rake," Charlie B. says, "and works on it. Then the football team comes out with those cleats—'They've been on it again,' he'll come home and say. One day he went down and somebody was trotting a horse around it. I've never seen him so mad." The track is located cozily by the pigs maintained by the agriculture contingent of Tennessee A&I. "You ought to be down here when the temperature is 105°," Temple says morosely. "Between the rocks on the track and them pigs, let me tell you, it is rough around here."

The university gives Temple almost no help in getting the team to and from meets. Until Rome, Wilma and the girls had never flown anywhere, and had traveled only once in a train. Temple drove them in his own car, and still does. There is no money for stopovers, and the salutary effects of nonstop automobile trips to New York, to Texas or Ohio on a carful of long-legged girls are probably negligible.

Mrs. Temple, Charlie B., a charming woman of dry wit and infinite amiability, helps her husband in every way she can. She and Ed Temple met in physiology class their senior year at Tennessee ("She was settin' on an A—I made it my business to meet her") and married right after school, in 1950. Completion of her thesis for her master's in biology has receded into the dim future; she and Ed have little time for anything but the present. They get up at 6, distribute Edwina and Bernard, and on an average Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday Temple goes to teach his 8 o'clock and his 9 o'clock classes, then back to the post office until 4, and to track practice every day but Sunday. This year he had to have the full legal responsibility for the post office signed over to Charlie B. to enable him to leave for the Olympics, and he points out that she has not had even the two weeks' vacation called for by the State of Tennessee for five years. Temple himself has not had a vacation for six. "I ask the president, he say, 'But Temple, you've just come back from a trip to Russia!' I ask for a raise, he say, 'Temple, you're young.' I told him, 'Listen, Mr. President, when I go through the supermarket, that cash register register just the same as for a person 90 years old.' I went in once and asked if I could have just two jobs, and I thought he like to have died."

A friend said to this, "Well, Temp, you got to be dedicated."

"Yeah, well," said Temple darkly, "there is such a thing as running dedication into a hole."

(A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country. An administration which has known Temple since he was a freshman is still inclined to think of him as "little Eddie" rather than as the internationally renowned Olympic coach Edward S. Temple.)

Temple and his team

Thirty-three-year-old Ed Temple resembles a gentle bull. When he is forced to have his picture taken the resulting print is likely to betray a slight feeling of self-consciousness at war with a natural directness. The same conflict is apparent when he speaks publicly. He speaks bluntly but with a controlled stammer that reminds one of the self-consciousness that haunts his pictures—self-consciousness at being in front of people at all. The only thing that will get him into either of these positions is his devotion to his girls. He will have his picture taken if it will get his girls into the paper; he will get on a platform to speak if he can speak about his girls. His fine runners who were never recognized are the subject of his speeches—Faggs and Daniels, Matthews and Thompson and White—the names roll out again and again, and the three members of this year's relay team who are not Wilma Rudolph are doggedly recalled to his listeners. He cherishes his girls as if each were his child and his Stradivarius. On the post-Olympic trip he was too busy bullying people into hurrying their meals to eat his own: in Detroit he got up and left his lunch to buy pills for an ailing Lucinda. Next day, a sharp look at Skeeter ("What's the matter with you?" "My stomach hurts") sent him to phone the hotel for a doctor. He held watches on press conferences because the girls had to rest but was undisturbed when they went to the movies instead. "I know these girls, I know them. I can look down that table, and I know when one of them's sick, she don't have to tell me. But I don't get too close. Girls are different. You pay too much attention to one, they get jealous. I just usually go right around, talk to them five minutes each, right around the table."

The girls, for their part, obey him without question—though volatile Barbara Jones may huff. "Jones is at it again," Temple will come home and tell Charlie B., to whom the girls may bring their grievances. "Some days she isn't speaking to him," Charlie B. grins. "She's out there running, but they aren't speaking." The rule, however, is enthusiastic submission.

Skeeter and all of Temple's juniors will go with him next year should he accept "a very attractive offer" made him by Grambling, Louisiana (where presumably he will not have to run the post office), and Skeeter wants to go with him if he decides to go to Ghana. Temple discourages this. It would be better, he thinks, for her to finish her schooling.

A few years ago Ed Temple bought, at his own expense, a movie camera and a projector, to make training films and records of the meets. There is a film upon which he was recording the broad-jumping in a meet in Cleveland. Another photographer was right down in the pit—close, since the girls were jumping 16 feet—and when Temple's Willye B. White jumped 19 feet she had to twist in mid-air to avoid spiking the man. She badly hurt her ankle. So on this film there is a record of the beginning of White's fine jump, and then blue sky, just a succession of clouds across the sky as the camera went right on shooting where Ed Temple dropped it,

And there is another film, taken of the tour after a meet in Russia, which is double exposed. "I got all excited," Temple says. Both sequences are clear—Russian churches superimposed upon the Russian track, Athens upon Budapest, and it seemed just like Ed Temple to be getting two films' worth out of one.