Riverdale Girl 1st With Gold
THE TIMES - Monday, July 30, 1984
By Sheila Elliott, Times Correspondent

betty1.jpg (45199 bytes)

Riverdale Girl
1st With Gold

RIVERDALE - With the eyes of the world fixed upon Los Angeles, the winner of the women's marathon, the first race of its kind in Olympic history, is sure to receive special attention.
   Perhaps it will be the same sort of attention showered on a Riverdale girl 56 years ago, when she snared the first Olympic gold medal ever awarded for women's track and field competition.
   Betty Robinson, an unknown 16-year-old Thornton High School junior, won the first gold medal ever awarded for the women's 100-meter run at the 1928 games. In doing so, she established a course record of 12:2, earning by popular acclaim the title one sportswriter gave her: "Princess of the Olympics."

   It was a heady trip for a high school girl who claimed at the time that she had not run in a single race as late as four months before the Olympic games.
   By her own account, Robinson's start in running was one of those unlikely circumstances of the right person being in the right place at the right time.
  She was spotted by Thornton's track coach one afternoon as she raced to catch an Illinois Central Gulf train to her Riverdale home.
   She made the train that day, and at the same time made quite an impression on Coach C.B. Price.
   It was a predicament that was to reoccur throughout her career.
   "For the most part, all of my training was by a single coach," she sad, although occasionally, in college at Northwestern, she worked out with the men's team.
   Compared to today's runners, who spend year logging thousands of mile preparing for Olympic competitions, Robinson's rise was truly mediocre.
   Four months after she started training, she captured the AAU Women's Championship for short distance running, placed second as a dark horse contender at the American Olympic Trails, and found herself at the starting line for the 100-meter competition at the Vienna games.
   Her rise was all the more impressive because of youth, both hers and the sport's.
   Coming in on the high heels of the flappers and the women's suffrage movement of the 1920's women's athletics were just coming into prominence.
   But if anyone had held doubts about the talents and professionalism of the women's team, they'd been dispelled by the time the Olympic torch was lit, she recalled.
   "Everything about the Olympics was first class," she said, "and women were treated as athletes and equals."
  Her time, a world record, bettered the existing mark by one-fifth of a second.   Even by today's standards - the current record for the same race is 9.93 - it is impressive.
   Robinson's victory let her steal the spotlight, at least temporarily, from some of the other stars of the '28 Olympics: Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weismuller and C.W. Paddock.
   And even if some balked at her titled of Olympic Princess, there could be no doubt that she was the Calumet Region's queen.
   A week later, though, she was back for her senior year at Thornton and again training, this time with an eye on the '32 games.
   But just as those mysterious forces of time and place had seemed to lead her so effortlessly to glory in 1928, they seemed to turn on her for the '32 games.
   In 1931, Robinson was in a plane crash, and suffered multiple injuries to her arms and legs.
   Six months in a wheelchair, followed by several months on crutches, brought a temporary end to her career.

Horizontal Line

Return to Betty Robinson Main Menu

Return to 1928 Olympics Page

Return to the Community Info. & Local History Main Menu

Library Services Community Info. & Local History
Cool Sites For Kids Magazines & Newspapers
Reference Resources Explore Internet Topics



Drop us a line at rdpl2@earthlink.net
August 24, 2000
Updated: December 19, 2013

Information provided by the Riverdale Historical Society