Was an Athlete Declared Dead After a Plane Crash Five Years BEFORE Winning Gold?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the Olympics and Olympians and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Olympic urban legends featured so far.

OLYMPIC URBAN LEGEND: Five years before winning a Gold medal, an Olympic athlete was declared dead at the scene of a plane crash.

In 1928, 16-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Robinson of Illinois became the first female winner of a Olympic Gold Medal, as Robinson won the 100 meter race (she also won a Silver Medal in the 4×100 meter relay race).

Tragically, in 1931, the 18-year-old Robinson was in a horrific plane crash.

Astonishingly, when she was found on the scene of the crash, she was declared dead and a local man put her “corpse” into the trunk of his car and drove her to the undertaker.

Once there, it was discovered that she was still breathing – she was just in a deep coma.

Robinson eventually came out of the coma after SEVEN MONTHS, but it was another six months until she got out of a wheelchair.

After two years of therapy, Robinson was able to run again, but she could not bend her legs to assume a crouch position to start a race, so she could not compete in the 100 meter race. However, since she COULD still run, she competed with the 1936 American women’s team in the 4×100 meter relay race, and they won!!

Her second Gold Medal is one of the most remarkable achievements in Olympic history. Robinson retired after the 1936 Games. She later married (taking her husband’s last name of Schwartz) and continued to be involved in athletics as an official.

She passed away in 1999 at the age of 87.

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One Response to “Was an Athlete Declared Dead After a Plane Crash Five Years BEFORE Winning Gold?”

  1. Sports-reference.com has a list of 21 competitors who were awarded Olympic medals posthumously. Some medals were for mountain climbing during the past olympiad; the rest were in art competitions.


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