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At same Olympics where John Carlos, Tommie Smith raised fists, this Georgian won gold and protested racial injustice

The Griffin, Georgia native was the first person to win consecutive gold medals in the 100-meter sprint and protested racial injustice while doing it.

GRIFFIN, Ga. — Decades before Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah won the gold medal in the 100-meter track and field event at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Wyomia Tyus made history. 

Though she may not be a household name, the Georgia native was the first person ever to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter race, according to the Atlanta History Center

Born on a dairy farm in Griffin, Georgia in 1945, Tyus won the gold medal at the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo at age 19. She was considered inexperienced and wasn't even expected to qualify for the event at the time, the history center said.

In a 2018 interview, Tyus told journalist David Zirin that she was hardly training when the coach at Tennessee State University recruited her to join their team.

"I was winning everything in my little town, in my little home town and I wasn't training... twice a week at the most," Tyus said.

Tyus tied late Olympic champion and fellow Tennessee State sprinter Wilma Rudolph's world record during her heat for the race before she stunned audiences with her first place finish and emerged as the fastest woman in the world at her Olympic debut. 

She returned to her home in the Jim Crow South, and was only allowed to have her celebratory parade roll through Black neighborhoods.

"There were a lot of things that were happening in the 60s that needed to be addressed," Tyus said.

Tyus told Zirin that she had a revelation when her college track coach explained that after her triumphs at the Olympics, she would have to return to America to face racism. That's when she shifted her outlook to fight injustice. 

According to the Atlanta History Center, Tyus wore black shorts instead of team uniform shorts in protest when she took home the gold for the second time at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. That day, she set an Olympic record as the first person to win consecutive gold medals in the 100-meter sprint.

It was the same Olympic games that Tommie Smith and John Carlos held up their fists on the podium after winning the 200-meter race. That image that is now iconic, though Tyus' act of resistance is still widely overlooked. 

The history center called Tyus a "pioneer for both her sport and social activism."

Tyus went on to become a Georgia Sports Hall of Fame inductee, and a major influence on the formation of the Women's Sports Foundation. The 75-year-old is still active in speaking out against racial injustice to this day. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

There is now a park in Griffin, Georgia called "Wyomia Tyus Olympic Park" in honor of her legacy.

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