An Ode to 2 of Tennessee’s Olympic Heroes

The Olympic trials are over and Rio is just around the corner. Athletes like Gabby Douglas, Katie Ledecky, and Michael Phelps probably flash across your dreams and television sets. It’s no surprise of course. These are America’s champions; the ones who train 365 days of the year in order to take the gold and hearts of millions.

Even though these Olympians are international heroes they never forgot where they came from. Proud Tennesseans, Tracy Caulkins and Wilma Rudolph, are no exceptions. Hear their stories below.

Tracy Caulkins


Caulkins began swimming as a young child. However, she didn’t discover her passion for the sport until she witnessed the 1972 Munich Olympics on TV. Even though she was only nine years old she knew she wanted to join the ranks.

Caulkins spent the next six years competing in championships and setting U.S. and world swimming records. Her hard work paid off when she qualified for her first Olympic Games in Moscow. Unfortunately, the U.S. team boycotted the Games that year on the request of President Carter.

The next four years of Caulkins’ life was dedicated to becoming the best athlete she could be. Finally, she was able to fulfil her lifelong dream. It was during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games that Caulkins took home her three gold medals.


After Los Angeles Caulkins decided to retire and finish out her college career. Ultimately she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame for all of her accomplishments.

Wilma Rudolph

Aankomst Amerikaanse Olympische atleten op Schiphol, v.l.n.r. Otis Davis , Wilma Rudolph en Don Bragg  *15 september 1960

Contracting infantile paralysis at age four, Rudolph didn’t seem to have a chance of ever walking properly, let alone run. Due to the knee brace she was forced to wear, and bouts of polio and scarlet fever, Rudolph was no stranger to hospitals.

At age 13 Rudolph was finally well enough to play sports. Originally a basketball player she was ultimately recruited by her high school’s track and field coach. By the age of 16, Rudolph was already competing in her first Olympics. She returned from the 1956 Melbourne Games with a bronze medal.

In the 1960 Rome Olympics Rudolph won three gold medals and set an Olympic record. Shortly after the Games Rudolph and her Tennessee State teammates set a world record in the 4 x 100-meter relay.


Rudolph ended her career in 1962 at 22 years old. Years later she was voted into many hall of fames, including the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Collectively earning six gold medals and one bronze medal, both women have rightfully earned their place in the record books. These strong Tennessean champions have left an impact on not only our state, but the entire world.

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