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Cullen Jones, Olympic Medalist   Leave a comment


Second African-American to win a gold medal in swimming. Born in the Bronx borough of New York City, Jones moved to Irvington, New Jersey while in elementary school. He learned to swim after he was rescued from a near-drowning at a splash-down pool at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in Pennsylvania when he was five years old.[1][2] He became an age-group swimmer at Metro Express, a club team at the Jewish Community Center in West Orange, NJ under head coach Ed Nessel. Jones later switched teams to the Jersey Gators Swim Club in Cranford.
Swimming career

 

Jones attended North Carolina State University, where he was an English major with a minor in psychology. He turned professional in the summer of 2006, after signing with Nike[3] and burst onto the scene shortly after at the 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships where he set a meet record in the 50 m freestyle with a time of 21.84. He also swam a leg (split of 47.96) in the world record breaking 4×100 m freestyle relay along with Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak and Garrett Weber-Gale.
 In 2007, he also won a gold medal in 4×100 m freestyle relay with the same teammates in 2007 World Aquatics Championships

Jones is the second African-American to hold or share a world record (4×100 m freestyle relay) in swimming, after Anthony Ervin.[4] He is also the third African-American to make the US Olympic swimming team after Anthony Ervin and Maritza Correia. At the 2008 Olympic swimming trials,
 Jones broke the American record in the 50 meter freestyle with a time of 21.59. The record was subsequently broken the next day by Garrett Weber-Gale. In the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, he won a gold medal in the 4×100 m freestyle relay in a world record time of 3:08.24 with Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak and Garrett Weber-Gale.

In July 2009, Jones set the American record in the 50-meter freestyle at the U.S. National Championships in Indianapolis, IN.[5]
He trains with David Marsh at the Center of Excellence at Mecklenburg Aquatic Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.Swimming is not a black sport, often not even a pastime. At 5, Jones almost drowned at a water park — he flipped forward in his inner tube at the end of a water slide; full resuscitation required — because he didn’t know how to swim. Jones’s mother, Debra, immediately enrolled her son in swim lessons. But in middle school, when he started beating white kids at New Jersey swim meets, parents started muttering in his direction, “Shouldn’t he be playing basketball?” Jones, who now stands 6-foot-5, heard this at home, too. His father, Ron, loved basketball and played on his community-college team. “He was a center who played like a point guard,” Jones said. “Deadly.” He could sink jump shots from half court. He wanted badly for his son to follow in his hightops. He didn’t let go of that dream until 2000, when he learned that he had lung cancer. “After that, he never missed a swim practice,” Jones told me. His father died later that year, well before Jones would break the American record in the 50-meter freestyle and win a gold medal in the 400-meter relay with Phelps. Swimmers are big on tattoos — so much exposed skin. Jones had “41,” his father’s basketball jersey number, inked on his back.

Had Jones’s father lived, he would have been justified in lobbying against a sport that combines so much pain and boredom with so little glory and margin for error. The 50-meter freestyle is a 21-second race. Jones practices a big, vaulting freestyle technique that requires twin discomforts: hyperextending the shoulder joint to create more length and power and not taking a single breath. (“I’m kind of pansy about breathing,” Jones admits.) This week, Jones will race in the biggest event of the year, the FINA World Championships, in Shanghai. He’s the fastest American ever at 50 meters, but he has also choked at a couple of key moments. In 2004, in Jones’s first Olympic trials, Gary Hall Jr., holder of eight Olympic medals at the time, strutted out to the pool deck in boxing attire; he psyched Jones out, causing him to swim poorly and not qualify. Four years later, at the 2008 Olympic trials, Hall’s antics messed with Jones’s head again. One day after Jones broke the American record in the 50-free preliminaries, Hall appeared before the finals in a satin boxing robe, and Jones says, “It took me off my game.” He didn’t swim well and again didn’t qualify (neither did Hall). “Afterward I was curled up in the fetal position in my hotel room, crying. I couldn’t believe that I’d trained so hard. Not to be ready in that moment just killed me.” After the 2008 Games, Jones took four months off. When he returned, he worked with a sports psychologist on mental preparation. “That’s the biggest hurdle for me, how to psych myself up. I still have slip-ups.”

To prepare for this week’s World Championships — which are themselves preparation for the 2012 Olympics — Jones swam last month at the Santa Clara International Grand Prix. Apart from having spectacular bodies, the best swimmers in the country lead lives that are less glamorous than you might think. Many are postcollege, in their mid-20s, with stressful, modest sponsorships that pay in part based on performance. Jones has more stability — and a B.M.W. — thanks to corporate sponsors, including Nike, that clearly see the market appeal of the handsome black swimmer. He also works with the U.S.A. Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative. Who better than Jones to connect with minority children, who drown at higher rates then white children, and teach them to swim?

 

In Santa Clara, Jones stripped down to a Mondrian-patterned practice suit and warmed up next to Phelps. Phelps, of course, exists on a different plane, one that includes two security guards to fend off the Sharpie-wielding children thrusting swim caps at him to sign.
 Jones’s agent hopes, as agents do, that Jones, too, will eventually rise above his swimming peers, that he’ll win big in the 2012 Olympics and become not just the unexpected brother on Phelps’s team but a cultural hero like Serena or Venus Williams or Tiger Woods, the black champion of a white sport. But Jones doesn’t think that grandly, not before a race. “Baby steps,” he told me, toweling off from his warm-up. “I just try to beat the guys in my heat.”
Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer for the magazine. Her book “No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage, Then I Tried to Make It Better” will be published in February.

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Posted March 6, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Olympians

Wilma Rudolph, 1960 Olympian Champion of (3) Gold Medals   Leave a comment


Wilma Glodean Rudolph (June 23, 1940 – November 12, 1994) was an American athlete. Rudolph was considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and competed in two Olympic Games, in 1956 and in 1960.

In the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games.[1] A track and field champion, she elevated women’s track to a major presence in the United States. She is also regarded as a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer. Along with other 1960 Olympic athletes such as Cassius Clay, who later became Muhammad Ali, Rudolph became an international star due to the first international television coverage of the Olympics that year.[2]

The powerful sprinter emerged from the 1960 Rome Olympics as “The Tornado,” the fastest woman on earth.[3] The Italians nicknamed her La Gazzella Negra (“The Black Gazelle”); to the French she was La Perle Noire (“The Black Pearl”).[4][5] She is one of the most famous Tennessee State University Tigerbelles, the name of the TSU women’s track and field program.

Biography

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely at 4.5 lbs., the 20th of 22 other brothers and sisters, and caught infantile paralysis (caused by the polio virus) as a very young child. She recovered, but wore a brace on her left leg and foot which had become twisted as a result. By the time she was twelve years old, she had also survived scarlet fever, whooping cough, chickenpox, and measles. Her family drove her regularly from Clarksville, Tennessee, to Nashville, Tennessee for treatments to straighten her twisted leg. She also had to have a leg brace on for three years (6 to 9).

Wilma Rudolph at the finish line during 50 yard dash at track meet in Madison Square Garden, 1961

In 1952, 12-year-old Rudolph finally achieved her dream of shedding her handicap and becoming like other children. Her older sister was on a basketball team, and Wilma vowed to follow in her footsteps. While in high school, Rudolph was on the basketball team when she was spotted by Tennessee State track and field coach Edward S. Temple. Being discovered by Temple was a major break for a young athlete. The day he saw the tenth grader for the first time, he knew he had found a natural athlete. Rudolph had already gained some track experience on Burt High School’s track team two years before, mostly as a way to keep busy between basketball seasons.[6]

While attending Burt High School, Rudolph became a basketball star, setting state records for scoring and leading her team to the state championship. By the time she was 16, she earned a berth on the U.S. Olympic track and field team and came home from the 1956 Melbourne Games with an Olympic bronze medal in the 4 x 100 m relay.

At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome she won three Olympic titles: the 100 m, 200 m and the 4 x 100 m relay. As the temperature climbed toward 110 degrees, 80,000 spectators jammed the Stadio Olimpico. Rudolph ran the 100-meter dash in an impressive 11 seconds flat. However the time was not credited as a world record, because it was wind-aided. She also won the 200-meter dash in 23.2 seconds, a new Olympic record. After these wins, she was being hailed throughout the world as “the fastest woman in history”. Finally, on September 11, 1960, she combined with Tennessee State teammates Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams and Barbara Jones to win the 400-meter relay in 44.5 seconds, setting a world record. Rudolph had a special, personal reason to hope for victory—to pay tribute to Jesse Owens, the celebrated American athlete who had been her inspiration, also the star of the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, Germany.[7] Rudolph sprinted in the Drake Relays in Des Moines, IA and won first place.

Rudolph retired from track competition in 1962 at age 22 after winning two races at a U.S.–Soviet meet.

Awards and honors

Rudolph was United Press Athlete of the Year 1960 and Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year for 1960 and 1961. Also in 1961, the year of her father’s death, Rudolph won the James E. Sullivan Award, an award for the top amateur athlete in the United States, and visited President John F. Kennedy.[8]

She was voted into the National Black Sports and Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1973[9] and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974.[10]

She was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983, honored with the National Sports Award in 1993, and inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.[11]

In 1994, the portion of U. S. Route 79 in Clarksville, Tennessee between the Interstate 24 exit 4 in Clarksville to the Red River (Lynnwood-Tarpley) bridge near the Kraft Street intersection was renamed to honor Wilma Rudolph.

 Career and family

In 1963, Rudolph was granted a full scholarship to Tennessee State University where she received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. After her athletic career, Rudolph worked as a teacher at Cobb Elementary School, coaching track at Burt High School, and became a sports commentator on national television.

She married her high school sweetheart Robert Eldridge in 1963, and had four children: Yolanda (b. 1958), Djuanna (b. 1964), Robert Jr. (b. 1965) and Xurry (b. 1971). Rudolph and Eldridge later divorced.

 Death

In July 1994, shortly after her mother’s death, Rudolph was diagnosed with brain and throat cancer. On November 12, 1994, at age 54, she died of cancer in her home in Nashville. At the time of her death, she had four children, eight grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.[12] Thousands of mourners filled Tennessee State University’s Kean Hall on November 17, 1994, for the memorial service in her honor. Others attended the funeral at Clarksville’s First Baptist Church. Across Tennessee, the state flag flew at half-mast.

Nine months after Rudolph’s death, Tennessee State University, on August 11, 1995, dedicated its new six-story dormitory the “Wilma G. Rudolph Residence Center.” A black marble marker was placed on her grave in Clarksville’s Foster Memorial Garden Cemetery by the Wilma Rudolph Memorial Commission on November 21, 1995. In 1997, Governor Don Sundquist proclaimed that June 23 be known as “Wilma Rudolph Day” in Tennessee.[13]

Legacy

In 1994, Wilma Rudolph Boulevard was the name given to the portion of U.S. Route 79 in Clarksville, Tennessee.

The Woman’s Sports Foundation Wilma Rudolph Courage Award is presented to a female athlete who exhibits extraordinary courage in her athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity, makes significant contributions to sports and serves as an inspiration and role model to those who face challenges, overcomes them and strives for success at all levels. This award was first given in 1996 to Jackie Joyner-Kersee.[14]

A life-size bronze statue of Rudolph stands at the southern end of the Cumberland River Walk at the base of the Pedestrian Overpass, College Street and Riverside Drive, in Clarksville.[15]

In 2000 Sports Illustrated magazine ranked Rudolph as number one in its listing of the top fifty greatest sports figures in twentieth-century Tennessee.[16]

Following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Berlin in 1994, Berlin American High School (BAHS) was turned over to the people of Berlin and became the “Gesamtschule Am Hegewinkel.” The school was renamed the “Wilma Rudolph Oberschule” in her honor in the summer 2000.[17]

On July 14, 2004, the United States Postal Service issued a 23 cent Distinguished Americans series postage stamp in recognition of her accomplishments.

In 1977 a docudrama titled Wilma or The Story of Wilma Rudolph was produced by Bud Greenspan.

Posted February 15, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Olympians, Sports

Jessie Owens, Gold Medal Olympian Champion   1 comment


 James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete who specialized in the sprints and the long jump. He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he achieved international fame by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump, and as part of the 4×100 meter relay team. He was the most successful athlete at the 1936 Summer Olympics, a victory more poignant and often noted because Adolf Hitler had intended the 1936 games to showcase his Aryan ideals and prowess.

The Jesse Owens Award, USA Track and Field‘s highest accolade for the year’s best track and field athlete, is named after him, in honor of his significant career.

 Childhood

James Cleveland Owens was born the seventh of eleven children of Henry and Mary Emma Owens in Oakville, Alabama on September 12, 1913. J.C., as he was called, was nine years old when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio for better opportunities, as part of the Great Migration, when 1.5 million African Americans left the segregated South. When his new teacher asked his name (to enter in her roll book), he said “J.C.”, but because of his strong Southern accent, she thought he said “Jesse”. The name took, and he was known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life.[1]

As a boy and youth, Owens took different jobs in his spare time: he delivered groceries, loaded freight cars and worked in a shoe repair shop while his father and older brother worked at a steel mill.[2] During this period, Owens realized that he had a passion for running. Throughout his life, Owens attributed the success of his athletic career to the encouragement of Charles Riley, his junior high track coach at Fairmount Junior High School. Since Owens worked in a shoe repair shop after school, Riley allowed him to practice before school instead.

Owens first came to national attention when he was a student of East Technical High School in Cleveland; he equaled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100-yard (91 m) dash and long-jumped 24 feet 9 ½ inches (7.56 m) at the 1933 National High School Championship in Chicago.[3]

 Ohio State University

Owens attended the Ohio State University after employment was found for his father, ensuring the family could be supported. Affectionately known as the “Buckeye bullet,” Owens won a record eight individual NCAA championships, four each in 1935 and 1936. (The record of four gold medals at the NCAA was equaled only by Xavier Carter in 2006, although his many titles also included relay medals.) Though Owens enjoyed athletic success, he had to live off campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team, Owens was restricted to ordering carry-out or eating at “black-only” restaurants. Similarly, he had to stay at “blacks-only” hotels. Owens did not receive a scholarship for his efforts, so he continued to work part-time jobs to pay for school.

Owens’s greatest achievement came in a span of 45 minutes on May 25, 1935 at the Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he set three world records and tied a fourth. He equaled the world record for the 100 yard dash (9.4 seconds); and set world records in the long jump (26 ft 8 14 in/8.13 m, a world record that would last 25 years); 220-yard (201.2 m) sprint (20.3 seconds); and 220-yard (201.2m) low hurdles (22.6 seconds, becoming the first to break 23 seconds).[4] In 2005, NBC sports announcer Bob Costas and University of Central Florida professor of sports history Richard C. Crepeau both chose these wins on one day as the most impressive athletic achievement since 1850.[5]

 Berlin Olympics

Owens performing the long jump at the Olympics.

In 1936, Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Summer Olympics. Adolf Hitler was using the games to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany.[6] He and other government officials had high hopes that German athletes would dominate the games with victories (the German athletes achieved a “top of the table” medal haul). Meanwhile, Nazi propaganda promoted concepts of “Aryan racial superiority” and depicted ethnic Africans as inferior.[6][7]

Owens surprised many[6] by winning four gold medals: On August 3, 1936 he won the 100m sprint, defeating Ralph Metcalfe; on August 4, the long jump (later crediting friendly and helpful advice from Luz Long, the German competitor he ultimately defeated);[4] on August 5, the 200m sprint; and, after he was added to the 4 x 100 m relay team, he won his fourth on August 9 (a performance not equaled until Carl Lewis won gold medals in the same events at the 1984 Summer Olympics).

Just before the competitions, Owens was visited in the Olympic village by Adi Dassler, the founder of the Adidas athletic shoe company. He persuaded Owens to use Adidas shoes, the first sponsorship for a male African-American athlete.[8]

The long-jump victory is documented, along with many other 1936 events, in the 1938 film Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl.

On the first day, Hitler shook hands only with the German victors and then left the stadium. Olympic committee officials insisted Hitler greet every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations.[9][10] On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens said at the time:

“Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave”. “It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was ‘bad taste’ to criticize the man of the hour in another country”.[11]

Jesse Owens on the podium after winning the long jump at the 1936 Summer Olympics. L-R, on podium, Naoto Tajima, Owens, Luz Long.

Hitler expressed his feelings about Owens and Africans in private. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and later war armaments minister, recollected:

Each of the German victories, and there were a surprising number of these, made him happy, but he was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.[12]

Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, while at the time blacks in many parts of the United States were denied equal rights. After a New York City ticker-tape parade of Fifth Avenue in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to reach the reception honoring him.[4]

Owens said, “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”[13] On the other hand, Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself.[14] Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor were honors bestowed upon him by president Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or his successor Harry S. Truman during their terms. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored Owens by naming him an “Ambassador of Sports.”

In August 2009, the London Daily Telegraph found a German sports reporter, Siegfried Mischner then aged 83, who claimed that Owens had shown him a photograph of Hitler shaking his hand after the 100 meters event, behind the stadium’s honor stand. There is no independent confirmation of this.[15]

 Post Olympics

He was quoted saying the secret behind his success was “I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up.”[16][17]

After the games had finished, the Olympic team and Owens were all invited to compete in Sweden. He decided to capitalize on his success by returning to the United States to take up some of the more lucrative commercial offers. United States athletic officials were furious and withdrew his amateur status, ending his career immediately. Owens was angry, saying, “A fellow desires something for himself.”[18]

Prohibited from amateur sporting appearances to bolster his profile, Owens found the commercial offers all but disappeared. In 1946, he joined Abe Saperstein in the formation of the West Coast Baseball Association (WCBA), a new Negro baseball league; Owens was Vice-President and the owner of the Portland (Oregon) Rosebuds franchise.[19] He toured with the Rosebuds, sometimes entertaining the audience in between doubleheader games by competing in races against horses.[20] The WCBA disbanded after only two months.[19][20]

Owens helped promote the exploitation film Mom and Dad in black neighborhoods.[citation needed] He tried to make a living as a sports promoter, essentially an entertainer. He would give local sprinters a ten or twenty-yard start and beat them in the 100-yd (91 m) dash. He also challenged and defeated racehorses; as he revealed later, the trick was to race a high-strung thoroughbred that would be frightened by the starter’s shotgun and give him a bad jump. Owens said, “People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.”[21]

Owens ran a dry cleaning business and worked as a gas station attendant to earn a living. He eventually filed for bankruptcy. In 1966, he was successfully prosecuted for tax evasion.[22] At rock bottom, he was aided in beginning rehabilitation. The government appointed him a US goodwill ambassador. Owens traveled the world and spoke to companies such as the Ford Motor Company and stakeholders such as the United States Olympic Committee. After he retired, he owned racehorses.

Owens refused to support the black power salute by African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He told them:[23]

The black fist is a meaningless symbol. When you open it, you have nothing but fingers – weak, empty fingers. The only time the black fist has significance is when there’s money inside. There’s where the power lies.

Four years later in his 1972 book I Have Changed he moderated his opinion:

I realized now that militancy in the best sense of the word was the only answer where the black man was concerned, that any black man who wasn’t a militant in 1970 was either blind or a coward.

After smoking for 35 years, Owens contracted lung cancer. He died from the disease at age 66 in Tucson, Arizona on March 31, 1980. He is buried in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

A few months before his death, Owens had tried unsuccessfully to convince President Jimmy Carter not to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He argued that the Olympic ideal was to be a time-out from war and above politics.

 Marriage and family

Owens and Minnie Ruth Solomon met at Fairmount Junior High School in Cleveland when he was 15 years old and she was 13 years old. They dated steadily through high school. Ruth gave birth to their first daughter, Gloria, in 1932. They got married in 1935 and had two more daughters together: Marlene, born in 1939, and Beverly, born in 1940. They were married until his death.[24][25]

 Awards, tributes and honors

May his light shine forever as a symbol
for all who run for the freedom of sport,
for the spirit of humanity,
for the memory of Jesse Owens.

Posted February 15, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Olympians, Sports

Serena Williams, Professional Tennis Player, Olympic Gold Medalist   Leave a comment


Serena Jameka Williams (born September 26, 1981) is an American professional tennis player and a former world no. 1. The Women’s Tennis Association has ranked her world no. 1 in singles on five separate occasions. She became the world no. 1 for the first time on July 8, 2002 and regained this ranking for the fifth time on November 2, 2009.[2]

Her 27 Grand Slam titles places her ninth on the all-time list: 13 in singles, 12 in women’s doubles, and 2 in mixed doubles. She is the most recent player, male or female, to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously and only the fifth woman in history to do so. She was also the first woman, along with sister Venus Williams, to hold all four Grand Slam doubles titles simultaneously since Martina Hingis did so in 1998. Her 13 Grand Slam singles titles is sixth on the all-time list.[3] Williams ranks fourth in Grand Slam women’s singles titles won during the open era, behind Steffi Graf (22 titles) and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (18 titles each).[3] She has won more Major titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles than any other active player, male or female.

Williams has won two Olympic gold medals in women’s doubles.[4] She has won more career prize money than any other female athlete in history.[5] Serena has played older sister Venus in 23 professional matches since 1998, with Serena winning 13 of these matches. They have met in eight Grand Slam finals, with Serena winning six times. Beginning with the 2002 French Open, they played each other in four consecutive Grand Slam singles finals, which was the first time in the open era that the same two players had contested four consecutive Grand Slam finals. The pair have won 12 Grand Slam doubles titles together. She is the first player, male or female, to win 5 Australian Open titles during the open era.

 Early life

Serena Williams was born in Saginaw, Michigan, to Richard Williams and Oracene Price. She is of African American heritage and is the youngest of Price’s five daughters: half-sisters Yetunde (1972–2003), Lyndrea and Isha Price, and full sister Venus.[1] When the children were young, the family moved to the city of Compton in Los Angeles county, where Serena started playing tennis at the age of five.[6] Her father home-schooled Serena and her sister Venus[7] and to this day, Serena Williams was and remains coached by both her parents.[1]

Williams’ family moved from Compton to West Palm Beach[8] when she was nine so that she could attend the tennis academy of Rick Macci, who would provide additional coaching. Macci spotted the exceptional talents of the sisters. He did not always agree with Williams’ father but respected that “he treated his daughters like kids, allowed them to be little girls”.[9] Richard stopped sending his daughters to national junior tennis tournaments when Williams was 10, since he wanted them to take it slow and focus on school work. Another motivation was racial, as he had allegedly heard parents of white players talk about the Williams sisters in a derogatory manner during tournaments.[10] At that time, Williams had a 46–3 record on the United States Tennis Association junior tour and was ranked No. 1 among under 10 players in Florida.[11] In 1995, when Serena was in the ninth grade, Richard pulled his daughters out of Macci’s academy, and from then on took over all coaching at their home. When asked in 2000 whether having followed the normal path of playing regularly on the junior circuit would have been beneficial, Williams responded: “Everyone does different things. I think for Venus and I, we just tried a different road, and it worked for us.”[11]

 Playing style

Williams is primarily a baseline player. Her game is built around taking immediate control of rallies with a powerful and consistent serve (considered by some to be the best in the women’s game),[12] return of serve, and forceful groundstrokes from both her forehand and backhand swings. Williams’ forehand is considered to be among the most powerful shots in the women’s game as is her double-handed backhand. Williams strikes her backhand groundstroke using an open stance, and uses the same open stance for her forehand. Williams’s aggressive play, a “high risk” style, is balanced in part by her serve, which combines great power and placement with very high consistency.[13] Her serve has been hit as hard as 128 mph (206.5 km/h), the second-fastest all-time among female players (Venus recorded the fastest with 129 mph).[citation needed] Serena also possesses a very solid volley and powerful overhead which is very useful for her net game. Although many think of Williams as only an offensive player, she also plays a strong defensive game.[14]

Professional career

1995–98: Professional debut

Williams’s first professional event was in September 1995, at the age of 13, at the Bell Challenge in Quebec City. She lost in the first round of qualifying to world no. 149 Annie Miller in less than an hour of play and earned US$240 in prize money.

Williams did not play a tournament in 1996. The following year, she lost in the qualifying rounds of three tournaments, before winning her first main-draw match in November at the Ameritech Cup Chicago. Ranked world no. 304, she upset world no. 7 Mary Pierce and world no. 4 Monica Seles, recording her first career wins over top 10 players and becoming the lowest-ranked player in the open era to defeat two top 10 opponents in one tournament.[1] She ultimately lost in the semifinals to world no. 5 Lindsay Davenport. She finished 1997 ranked world no. 99.

Williams began 1998 at the Medibank International Sydney. As a qualifier ranked world no. 96, she defeated world no. 3 Davenport in the quarterfinals, before losing to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in the semifinals. Williams made her debut in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open, where she defeated sixth-seeded Irina Spîrlea in the first round, before losing to sister Venus in the second round in the sisters’ first professional match.[15] Williams reached six other quarterfinals during the year, but lost all of them, including her first match against world no. 1 Martina Hingis at the Lipton International Players Championships in Key Biscayne, and her second match against Venus at the Italian Open in Rome. She failed to reach the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam tournament the remainder of the year, losing in the fourth round of the French Open to Sánchez Vicario, and the third round of both Wimbledon and the US Open, to Virginia Ruano Pascual and Spîrlea, respectively. She did, however, win the mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open with Max Mirnyi, completing the Williams family’s sweep of the 1998 mixed doubles Grand Slam tournaments. Williams won her first professional title in doubles in Oklahoma City with Venus, becoming the third pair of sisters to win a WTA title.[1] The Williams sisters won two more doubles titles together during the year. Serena finished the year ranked world no. 20 in singles.

1999–2001: Becoming a top-10 player

Williams lost in the third round of the 1999 Australian Open to Sandrine Testud. The following month, she won her first professional singles title, when she defeated Australian Open runner-up Amélie Mauresmo, 6–2, 3–6, 7–6, in the final of the Open Gaz de France in Paris. With Venus also winning the IGA Superthrift Classic in Oklahoma City that day, the pair became the first sisters to win professional tournaments in the same week.[16] A month later, Serena won her first Tier I singles title at the Evert Cup in Indian Wells, California by defeating world no. 7 Steffi Graf, 6–3, 3–6, 7–5, in the final. At the following tournament, the Tier I Lipton International Players Championships in Key Biscayne, Williams defeated world no. 1 Martina Hingis in the semifinals, before Venus ended her 16-match winning streak in the first all-sister singles final in WTA history.[1] On April 5, 1999, Serena made her top-10 debut at world no. 9.

Williams played three tournaments during the 1999 European spring clay court season. She lost in the quarterfinals of the Tier I Italian Open in Rome to World No. 1 Hingis and in the quarterfinals of the Tier I German Open in Berlin to World No. 7 Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. Serena and Venus won the women’s doubles title at the French Open, but Serena was upset by Mary Joe Fernandez in the third round of the singles competition. She then missed Wimbledon because of injury.

When she returned to the tour, Williams won a Fed Cup singles match, before playing two tournaments during the 1999 North American summer hard-court season. She won the JPMorgan Chase Open in Los Angeles, defeating world no. 1 Hingis in the semifinals and Julie Halard-Decugis in the final. Williams was seeded seventh at the US Open, where she defeated world no. 4 Monica Seles, world no. 2 Lindsay Davenport, and world no. 1 Hingis to become the second African-American woman (after Althea Gibson in 1958) to win a Grand Slam singles tournament.[1] The Williams sisters also won the doubles title at this tournament, their second Grand Slam title together.

To complete 1999, Williams won a doubles match in the Fed Cup final against Russia, her third tournament of the year at the Grand Slam Cup in Munich, and lost in the second round of the tournament in Filderstadt. Williams ended the year ranked world no. 4 in just her second full year on the main tour.

Williams started 2000 by losing in the fourth round of the Australian Open to 16th seeded Elena Likhovtseva. She failed to defend her titles in Paris and Indian Wells, although she did win the Faber Grand Prix in Hanover. Williams missed the French Open because of injury. She returned at Wimbledon, where she lost to eventual champion Venus in the semifinals after Serena had lost just 13 games in advancing to the second Grand Slam semifinal of her career. The Williams sisters teamed to win the doubles title at the event. Williams successfully defended her title in Los Angeles in August, defeating world no. 1 Hingis in the semifinals and world no. 2 Davenport in the final. She reached the final of the Du Maurier Open in Montreal, Canada the following week, where an injury forced her to retire from her match with Hingis. Her defense of the US Open title ended when she lost in the quarterfinals to second-seeded Davenport. Williams teamed with Venus to win the gold medal in doubles at the Sydney Olympics in September. She then won her third singles title of the year the following week at the Toyota Princess Cup in Tokyo. She finished the year ranked world no. 6.

Williams played two tournaments in Australia at the beginning of 2001, losing to world no. 1 Hingis in the quarterfinals of both the tournament in Sydney and the Australian Open. Serena and her sister Venus won the women’s doubles title at the latter tournament, becoming only the fifth doubles team in history to win all four Grand Slam women’s doubles titles during their career, a “Career Grand Slam”.

She did not play again until March, when she defeated Kim Clijsters in the final of the Tier I Tennis Masters Series in Indian Wells, California. She advanced to the final there when Venus withdrew just before the start of their semifinal match. Venus claimed that an injury prevented her from playing, but the withdrawal was controversial. Neither Williams sister has entered the tournament since.[17] The following week at the Tier I Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, Williams lost to Jennifer Capriati in the quarterfinals.

Williams did not play a clay-court tournament before the 2001 French Open, where she lost in the quarterfinals to Capriati, 2-6, 7-5, 2-6. Williams also did not play a grass-court tournament before Wimbledon, where she again lost in the quarterfinals to Capriati, 7-6, 5-7, 3-6, marking the fourth consecutive Grand Slam tournament at which Williams had exited in the quarterfinals.

Williams played three tournaments during the 2001 North American summer hard-court season. After losing in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Los Angeles, Williams captured her second title of the year at the Tier I Rogers Cup in Toronto, defeating Seles in the semifinals and world no. 3 Capriati in the final. Williams was seeded tenth at the US Open, where she defeated world no. 6 and Wimbledon runner-up Justine Henin in the fourth round, world no. 3 Davenport in the quarterfinals, and world no. 1 Hingis in the semifinals, before losing to sister Venus in the final. That was the first Grand Slam final contested by two sisters during the open era.

At the 2001-ending Sanex Championships in Munich, Williams defeated Silvia Farina Elia, Henin, and Testud en route to the final. She then won the championship by walkover when Davenport withdrew before the start of the final because of a knee injury. Williams finished 2001 at world no. 6 for the second straight year.

 2002–03: The “Serena Slam”

Williams playing Amélie Mauresmo in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Sydney in 2002

Injury forced Williams to retire from her semifinal match at the Medibank International Sydney and to withdraw from the 2002 Australian Open. She won her first title of the year at the State Farm Women’s Tennis Classic in Scottsdale, USA, defeating world no. 2 Jennifer Capriati in the final. She then won the Tier I Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne for the first time, becoming one of three players in the open era to defeat the world’s top 3 at one tournament,[1] after beating world no. 3 Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals, world no. 2 and sister Venus in the semifinals, and world no. 1 Capriati in the final. Her 6–2, 6–2 win over Venus was her second career win over her sister.

Williams played three clay court tournaments before the 2002 French Open. Her first tournament was at Charleston, where she was the third seed. Serena reached the quarterfinals after wins over Jennifer Hopkins and Nathalie Dechy, but eventually lost to world no. 30, Patty Schnyder, 6–2, 4–6, 5–7. She reached her first clay-court final in May, at the Eurocard German Open in Berlin, losing to Justine Henin in a third set tiebreak. The following week, Williams won her first clay court title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, defeating Capriati in the semifinals and Henin in the final.[18] This raised her ranking to a new high of world no. 3. Williams, as the third seed at the French Open, made the last eight at the tournament with wins over Martina Sucha, Dally Randriantefy, Janette Husárová, and a three-set win over Vera Zvonareva. In her quarterfinal match, she defeated ’00 champion, Mary Pierce, 6–1, 6–1. In the semifinals, she faced defending champion and world no. 1, Jennifer Capriati. After an outstanding display of tennis, Williams advanced to her first French Open final, 3–6, 7–6, 6–2. In the final, she faced world no. 2 and older sister, Venus. Serena won in the final, 7–5, 6–3, to claim her second Grand Slam title, her first in almost two and a half years. Serena rose to a career high of no. 2 after the win, second only to older sister Venus

At the 2002 Wimbledon Championships, Williams defeated Evie Dominikovic, Francesca Schiavone, Els Callens, and Chanda Rubin to reach her third Wimbledon quarterfinal. In her next match, Williams breezed past Daniela Hantuchová, 6–3, 6–2, and Amélie Mauresmo, 6–2, 6–1, to reach the final for the first time. There, she again defeated defending champion and no. 1 Venus, 7–6, 6–3, to win a Grand Slam singles title without dropping a set for the first time in her career. This victory earned Williams the world no. 1 ranking, dethroning her sister and becoming only the second African-American woman to hold that ranking.[1] The Williams sisters also won the doubles title at the tournament, the fifth Grand Slam doubles title for the pair.

Williams in Charleston

Williams played just one tournament between Wimbledon and the US Open, losing in the quarterfinals of the JPMorgan Chase Open in Los Angeles to Chanda Rubin, ending a 21-match winning streak. As the top-seeded player at the US Open, she defeated Corina Morariu, future rival Dinara Safina, Nathalie Dechy, and Dája Bedáňová to make her fourth consecutive quarterfinal, where she crushed Daniela Hantuchová, 6–2, 6–1, to book a place in the semifinals against former champion and no. 1 Lindsay Davenport. It marked the fourth consecutive time she face Davenport at the US Open. After a tight second set, Serena made her third US Open final in four years, where she faced Venus once more. Serena won the US Open title for the second time with a 6–4, 6–3 win in the final, making it her fourth Grand Slam singles title to date.

Williams won two consecutive singles titles in the fall, defeating Kim Clijsters to win the Toyota Princess Cup in Tokyo, and Anastasia Myskina to win the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig, Germany. She reached the final at the year-end Home Depot Championships, where she lost to fifth seeded Clijsters in straight sets, ending her 18-match winning streak.

Williams finished 2002 with a 56–5 record, eight singles titles, and the world no. 1 ranking. She was the first African-American (male or female) to end a year with that ranking since Althea Gibson in 1958. She was the first woman to win three Grand Slam titles in one year since Hingis in 1997.[1]

At the 2003 Australian Open, Williams went on to reach the semifinals for the first time, where she recovered from 5–2 down in the third set and saved two match points, before defeating Clijsters. She faced her sister Venus for the fourth consecutive Grand Slam final and won, 7–6, 3–6, 6–4, to become the sixth woman in the open era to complete a Career Grand Slam, joining Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, and Margaret Court. She also became the fifth woman to hold all Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously, joining Maureen Connolly Brinker, Court, Graf, and Navratilova.[19] The Williams sisters won their sixth Grand Slam doubles title together at this event.

Williams then captured singles titles at the Open Gaz de France in Paris and the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, defeating Clijsters in the semifinals and Capriati in the final. The following week, Williams lost the final at the clay-court Family Circle Cup in Charleston, USA to Henin, her first loss of the year after 21 wins. She also lost to Mauresmo in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. Despite these losses, Williams was the top seed at the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Henin, 2-6, 6-4, 5-7, marking Williams’s first loss in a Grand Slam tournament since 2001. The match was controversial, as Williams questioned Henin’s sportsmanship, and spectators applauded Williams’s errors.[20]

Williams rebounded from the loss at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships, defeating Henin in the semifinals and Venus in the final, 4–6, 6–4, 6–2. This was Williams’ second consecutive Wimbledon title and her sixth Grand Slam singles title overall. This was her last tournament of the year, as knee surgery prevented her from competing in the year’s remaining events, including the US Open. As a result, she lost the world no. 1 ranking to Clijsters in August, having held it for 57 consecutive weeks. Williams finished the year ranked world no. 3 and with four titles. On September 14, 2003, while Williams was still recovering from surgery, her sister Yetunde Price was murdered.

 2004–06: Injuries and inconsistent results

Williams delivering a serve at an exhibition in November 2004.

Williams withdrew from the Australian Open to continue rehabilitating her left knee. She then withdrew from further tournaments, which generated speculation that she was losing interest in the sport.[21] After eight months away from the tour, Williams began her comeback at the Tier I NASDAQ-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, where she defeated 16-year-old Russian Maria Sharapova in the fourth round and world no. 8 Elena Dementieva in the final. This was the third consecutive year that Williams had won this tournament.

She then played three clay-court tournaments leading up to the French Open. She lost in the quarterfinals of the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Florida, and, the following week at the Tier I Family Circle Cup in Charleston, she withdrew before her third-round match because of an injured knee. She was away from the tour for four weeks before playing the Tier I Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where she lost to world no. 9 Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals, 4-6, 4-6. Although ranked world no. 7, she was seeded second at the French Open. She won her first four matches over players ranked outside the top 50, before Capriati beat her in the quarterfinals,3-6, 6-2, 3-6. This was the first time she had lost before the semifinals at a Grand Slam singles tournament since Wimbledon in 2001.

She was seeded first at Wimbledon, even though her ranking had dropped to world no. 10. She reached the final, where she was defeated by 13th-seeded Sharapova 1-6, 4-6. This loss caused her ranking to drop out of the top 10 for the first time since early 1999.

Williams reached her third final of the year at the JPMorgan Chase Open in Los Angeles on hard courts. She lost there to Lindsay Davenport, 1-6, 3-6, which was her first loss to Davenport since the 2000 US Open. Williams then withdrew before her quarterfinal match at the Acura Classic in San Diego with another left knee injury. This injury caused her to miss both the Tier I Rogers AT&T Cup in Montreal and the Athens Olympics. She returned for the US Open, where she was seeded third even though she was ranked world no. 11. She lost there in the quarterfinals to world no. 8 Capriati, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6. This match featured several missed line calls, including one that led to the suspension of the chair umpire for the remainder of the tournament. This match is commonly referred to as the impetus for the current challenge system.[22][23]

Williams played only three tournaments the remainder of the year. She won her second title of the year at the China Open in Beijing, in which she defeated US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final. Five weeks later, she lost in the second round of the tournament in Linz, Austria to world no. 73 Alina Jidkova, but still qualified for the WTA Tour Championships. In the round-robin phase of the tournament, she defeated world no. 5 Dementieva, lost to world no. 1 Davenport, and defeated world no. 3 Anastasia Myskina. She lost to world no. 6 Sharapova in the final, 6-4, 2-6, 4-6. Williams trailed 5–2 in the second set, when she asked for treatment of an abdominal injury that caused her to serve around 65 mph. She led 4–0 in the third set, before Sharapova won the last six games of the match.[24] Williams finished 2004 ranked world no. 7, but did not win a Grand Slam singles tournament for the first time since 2001.

At the 2005 Australian Open, Williams rejected suggestions that she and sister Venus were a declining force in tennis, following Venus’s early exit at the tournament.[25] In the quarterfinals, Williams defeated second-seeded Mauresmo, 6–2, 6–2. In the semifinals, she saved three match points in defeating fourth-seeded Sharapova, 2–6, 7–5, 8–6. In the final, Williams defeated world no. 1 Davenport, 2–6, 6–3, 6–0, to win her second Australian Open singles title and seventh Grand Slam singles title. The win moved Williams back to world no. 2, and she stated that she was now targeting the no. 1 spot.[26]

She did not, however, reach the final at any of her next five tournaments. She withdrew before her quarterfinal match at the Open Gaz de France in Paris, citing a stomach illness.[27] Three weeks later, she retired from her semifinal match with Jelena Janković at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open, citing a strained tendon in her right shoulder.[28] Four weeks later, she lost to sister Venus for the first time since 2001 in the quarterfinals of the Tier I NASDAQ-100 Open in Key Biscayne, 1-6, 6-7. The following week, a left ankle injury forced her to retire from her quarterfinal match on clay at the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island. Five weeks away from the tour did not improve her results, as she lost in the second round of the Tier I Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome to Francesca Schiavone, 6-7, 1-6. The ankle injury also caused her to miss the French Open.[29]

She returned for Wimbledon as the fourth seeded player, but, after struggling through her first two matches in three sets, she was defeated in the third round by world no. 85 Jill Craybas, 3-6, 6-7.

Williams hitting a return at the US Open in 2006

After winning her first match at the Tier I Rogers Cup in Toronto, a recurrence of her left knee injury caused her to withdraw from the tournament. At the US Open, Williams lost to her sister Venus in the fourth round, 6-7, 2-6. This was the earliest the sisters had met in a Grand Slam tournament since their first meeting at the 1998 Australian Open. Williams played just one more match the remainder of the year, a loss to world no. 127 Sun Tiantian at the tournament in Beijing. She failed to qualify for the year-end championship for the first time since 1998. She finished the year ranked world no. 11, her first time finishing outside of the top 10 since 1998.

Williams did not participate in any of the official warm-up tournaments for the 2006 Australian Open.[30] Williams was the defending champion at the Australian Open, but fell to world no. 17 Daniela Hantuchová in the third round, 1-6, 6-7.[30] She then withdrew from tournaments in Tokyo (citing her lack of fitness)[31] and Dubai and from the Tier I NASDAQ-100 Open in Key Biscayne (citing a knee injury and lack of fitness).[32] On April 10, her ranking fell out of the top 100 for the first time since November 16, 1997. Shortly after, she announced that she would miss both the French Open and Wimbledon because of a chronic knee injury. She said that she would not be able to compete before “the end of the summer”, on doctor’s orders.[33]

Williams returned to the Tour in July at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati. Ranked world no. 139 because of her inactivity, she defeated world no. 11 Myskina in the first round, 6–2, 6–2, before losing in the semifinals to eventual champion Vera Zvonareva. She also reached the semifinals in Los Angeles, losing to world no. 28 Janković in straight sets.

At the US Open, Williams was unseeded in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 1998 and needed a wildcard to enter the tournament because her ranking was too low. She lost to top-seeded Mauresmo in the fourth round, 4-6, 6-0, 2-6.[30] She did not play again in 2006, ending the year ranked world no. 95. This was her lowest year-end ranking since 1997. Williams played just four tournaments in 2006.

 2007–08: Return to the top 10

Williams began 2007 with renewed confidence, stating her intention to return to the top of the rankings,[34] a comment former player and commentator Pat Cash branded “deluded.”[35]

Williams lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Hobart, Australia, a warm-up for the Australian Open.[36] Williams was unseeded at the Australian Open because of her world no. 81 ranking and was widely regarded as “out of shape.”[37] In the third round, however, Williams defeated fifth-seeded Nadia Petrova, which was her first win over a top-10 player since defeating Lindsay Davenport in the 2005 Australian Open final. In the final, Williams defeated top-seeded Maria Sharapova, 6–1, 6–2[38] to win her third Australian Open singles title and her eighth Grand Slam singles title. Williams dedicated the title to her deceased sister Yetunde.[38] Her performance in the final was described by TENNIS.com as “one of the best performances of her career”[37] and by BBC Sport as “arguably the most powerful display ever seen in women’s tennis.”[39]

Williams next played at the Tier I Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida in late March. In the final, Williams defeated world no. 1 Justine Henin, 0–6, 7–5, 6–3 after saving a match point in the second set.[40]

Williams after defeating Dinara Safina in the fourth round of the 2007 French Open

At the Tier I Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina on clay courts, Williams retired from her second-round match because of a groin pull. The following week, Williams won her first singles match in the first round Fed Cup tie against Belgium on hard courts,[41] but withdrew from the second singles match to rest her knee. Williams played only one clay-court tournament in Europe before the French Open. In Rome at the Tier I Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Williams lost to 14th-seeded Patty Schnyder of Switzerland in the quarterfinals, 3-6, 6-2, 6-7.[41] After the tournament, however, she re-entered the top 10 at world no. 9. As the eighth seed at the French Open, Williams lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Henin, 4-6, 3-6.[41] Williams said her performance was “hideous and horrendous” and worse than ever.[42] She also said that she felt “violated”.[43]

Despite the loss, Williams was one of the favorites for the Wimbledon title.[44] During her fourth round match against Daniela Hantuchová, Williams collapsed from an acute muscle spasm at 5–5 in the second set. After a medical timeout and holding serve to force a tiebreak, rain forced play to be suspended for nearly two hours. When the players returned, Williams won the match, 6–2, 6–7, 6–2.[45] Williams then lost her quarterfinal match with world no. 1 Henin, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6. Williams started the match with a heavily taped calf and was forced to use a one-handed backhand slice because of a left thumb injury. Williams was criticized for claiming after the match that she would have beaten Henin had Williams been healthy.[46] After Wimbledon, Williams moved up to world no. 7, her highest ranking since 2005.

Because of the thumb injury, Williams did not play a tournament between Wimbledon and the US Open.[41] At the US Open, she beat 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli in the fourth round,[41] but lost her third consecutive Grand Slam singles quarterfinal to Henin, 6-7, 1-6.[41]

In October, Williams lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Stuttgart to world no. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova.[41] Williams then reached her third final of the year at the Tier I Kremlin Cup in Moscow, defeating Kuznetsova in the semifinals, before losing to Elena Dementieva.[41] Nevertheless, Williams’s performances at these tournaments raised her ranking to world no. 5 and qualified her for the year-end Sony Ericsson Championships in Madrid. Her participation there was short. Because of injury, she retired from her first match with Anna Chakvetadze, after losing the first set, and then withdrew from the tournament.[47] Williams finished 2007 as World No. 7 and the top-ranked American for the first time since 2003.[41]

Williams started 2008 by participating on the U.S. team that won the Hopman Cup for the fifth time in Perth, Australia.[48] Williams was the seventh seed at the Australian Open, but lost in the quarterfinals to world no. 4 and third-seeded Jelena Janković, 3-6, 4-6.[49] This was her fourth straight loss in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam singles tournament. In the women’s doubles event, Serena and her sister Venus lost in the quarterfinals to the seventh-seeded team of Zheng Jie and Yan Zi.

Williams then withdrew from three tournaments because of an urgent need for dental surgery.[50] Upon her return to the Tour, Williams won three consecutive singles titles. At the Tier II tournament in Bangalore, India, Serena defeated sister Venus in the semifinals, 6–3, 3–6, 7–6,[49] after Serena saved a match point at 6–5 in the third set. This was the first time they had played each other since the fourth round of the 2005 US Open. Serena then defeated Schnyder in the final.[49] At the Tier I Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Williams won her fifth career singles title there, tying Steffi Graf for the most singles titles at this tournament. Williams defeated world no. 1 Henin in the quarterfinals, world no. 3 Kuznetsova in the semifinals, and world no. 4 Janković in the final.[49] This was her 30th career singles title.

Williams stretching for a ball in her first round match against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia at Wimbledon in 2008

At the clay-court Tier I Family Circle Cup in Charleston, Williams defeated, for the fourth consecutive time, second-seeded Sharapova in the quarterfinals.[49] In the final, Williams defeated Vera Zvonareva[49] to capture her tenth career Tier I title and first clay-court title since the 2002 French Open. Her 17-match winning streak was ended by Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals of the Tier I Qatar Telecom German Open in Berlin, 6-2, 1-6, 6-7.[49] Williams was the fifth-seeded player at the Tier I Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome and made it to the quarterfinals, where Alizé Cornet received a walkover over Williams[49] because of a back injury.

Williams was the fifth-seeded player at the French Open. Although she was the only former winner of this tournament in this year’s draw, following the sudden retirement of four-time champion Henin, she lost in the third round to 27th-seeded Katarina Srebotnik, 4-6, 4-6.[49]

At Wimbledon, the sixth-seeded Williams reached the finals for the first time in four years. She defeated former world no. 1 and 2006 Wimbledon champion Amélie Mauresmo in the third round, before losing the final to her older sister Venus in straight sets.[49] This was the first Grand Slam final in which the Williams sisters had played each other since 2003. Serena and Venus then teamed to win the women’s doubles title without dropping a set the entire tournament, their first Grand Slam women’s doubles title since 2003.

Williams playing World Team Tennis in 2008

Williams then played four World Team Tennis matches for the Washington Kastles,[51] contributing 49 points for her team.

Williams was seeded first at the tournament in Stanford, California, but retired from her semifinal match against qualifier Aleksandra Wozniak while trailing 6–2, 3–1[49] because of a left knee injury. That injury caused Williams to withdraw from the tournament in Los Angeles the following week.

Playing in the singles draw at the Olympics for the first time in Beijing, Williams was the fourth-seeded player in singles, but lost to fifth-seeded and eventual gold-medalist Dementieva in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6.[49] Serena and her sister Venus won the gold medal in doubles to add to their victory at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, beating the Spanish team of Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual in the final.

Williams was seeded fourth at the US Open and defeated her seventh-seeded sister Venus in the quarterfinals, 7–6, 7–6. Serena trailed 5–3 in both sets and saved two set points in the first set and eight set points in the second set. Williams then defeated Safina in the semifinals and second-seeded Jelena Janković, 6–4, 7–5, in the final, after saving four set points at 5–3 in the second set. This was her third US Open and ninth Grand Slam singles title. This victory returned her to the world no. 1 ranking for the first time since 2003.[52]

At the Tier II Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Williams was the top seed, but lost to world no. 30 Li Na in the second round, 6-0, 1-6, 4-6. Serena also played doubles there with her sister Venus, but they withdrew after winning their first round match because of a left ankle injury to Serena. On October 3, Williams announced her withdrawal from the Tier I Kremlin Cup in Moscow, citing a continuing left ankle injury and a desire to give her body time to recover from a packed playing schedule.[53] Because of her withdrawal, she lost the world no. 1 ranking to Janković.

Williams returned to the Tour Championships

Williams defeated Safina in her first round-robin match at the year-end Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, before losing to her sister Venus, 5–7, 6–1, 6–0 in her second round-robin match. She then withdrew from her match against Dementieva, citing a stomach muscle injury. She ended the year ranked world no. 2 and with four singles titles, her strongest performance in both respects since 2003.

 2009: Back at world no. 1

At the Medibank International in Sydney, top-seeded Williams lost in the semifinals to Russian Elena Dementieva for the third consecutive time, 3-6, 1-6.

Williams was seeded second at the Australian Open. She claimed her tenth Grand Slam singles title by defeating Dinara Safina in the final, 6–0, 6–3, in 59 minutes. This win returned her to the world no. 1 ranking and resulted in her becoming the all-time career prize money leader in women’s sports, overtaking golfer Annika Sörenstam. In women’s doubles, Serena and her sister Venus captured the title for the third time.

At the Open GDF SUEZ in Paris, Williams withdrew from the tournament before her scheduled semifinal with Dementieva because of a knee injury. Williams was the top seed at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, a Premier 5 event on the tour. She defeated former world no. 1 Ana Ivanović in the quarterfinals, before losing to her sister Venus in the semifinals, 1-6, 6-2, 6-7.

Williams at the 2009 Australian Open

At the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, a Premier Mandatory event, Williams was upset in the final by 11th seeded Victoria Azarenka. This was the first of four consecutive losses for Williams, the longest losing streak of her career.[54] She was defeated in her opening match at her first three clay-court events of the year, including the Premier 5 Internazionali d’Italia in Rome and the Premier Mandatory Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open. She lost the world no. 1 ranking to Safina on April 20. Despite not having won a match on clay in 2009 before the French Open, she reached the quarterfinals there, before losing to the eventual champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-7, 7-5, 5-7. This ended her 18-match Grand Slam tournament winning streak.

She rebounded at Wimbledon, saving a match point in defeating fourth seeded Dementieva in the semifinals, 6–7, 7–5, 8–6. In the final, Serena defeated her sister Venus, 7–6, 6–2, to win her third Wimbledon title and her 11th Grand Slam singles title. Although Williams was now holding three of the four Grand Slam singles titles, she continued to trail Safina in the WTA rankings, a fact Williams publicly mocked.[55] Williams and her sister Venus teamed to win the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon for the second consecutive year, their ninth Grand Slam title in women’s doubles.

Following Wimbledon, Williams played two Premier 5 tournaments before the US Open. She lost in the third round of the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati and in the semifinals, to world no. 5 Dementieva, of the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

She was seeded second at the US Open, where she lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Kim Clijsters amid controversy involving shouting at a line judge when defending match point, an offense which ultimately cost Williams the point and therefore the match. She continued in the doubles competition, teaming up with Venus to win their third Grand Slam doubles title of the year and tenth of their career.[56][57]

Williams played only two tournaments after the US Open. At the Premier Mandatory China Open in Beijing, she was defeated in the third round by Nadia Petrova. Williams won all three of her round-robin matches at the year-end WTA Tour Championships in Doha, Qatar, defeating world no. 7 Venus Williams, world no. 5 Dementieva, and world no. 3 Kuznetsova. She saved a match point against Venus, before winning in a third-set tiebreak. She then advanced to the final, when US Open runner-up Wozniacki retired from their semifinal match while trailing, 6–4, 0–1. In the final, Williams played Venus for the second time in four days, winning once again, 6–2, 7–6, against her tired and error-stricken sister.[58] This was Serena’s second singles title at this event.

Williams finished the year ranked world no. 1 for the second time in her career, having played in 16 tournaments, more than any other year. She also broke the record previously set by Justine Henin for the most prize money earned by a female tennis player in one year, with Williams earning $6,545,586. In doubles, the Williams sisters finished the year ranked world no. 2, despite playing only six tournaments as a pair. She won five Grand Slam titles, putting her total Grand Slam titles at 23.

Williams was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press[59] in a landslide vote (66 of 158 votes – no other candidate received more than 18 votes). She also was the International Tennis Federation World Champion in singles and doubles.[60]

 2010

Williams’s first scheduled tournament was the Medibank International Sydney. She defeated Frenchwoman Aravane Rezaï in the semifinals, 3–6, 7–5, 6–4, after trailing 5–2 in the second set and being two points from defeat. She then lost the final to world no. 5 and defending champion Elena Dementieva, 3-6, 2-6.

Williams in doubles action on her way to the single and doubles title at the 2010 Australian Open

At the Australian Open, Williams was the defending champion in both singles and doubles. She reached the singles quarterfinals without losing a service game or a set, where she eliminated Victoria Azarenka, 4–6, 7–6, 6–2, after trailing 4–0 in the second set. In the semifinals, Williams defeated 16th seeded Li Na, 7–6, 7–6, on her fifth match point to reach her fifth final in Melbourne and her fifteenth Grand Slam singles final. She then defeated 2004 champion Justine Henin, 6–4, 3–6, 6–2, for her twelfth Grand Slam singles title. This was the first time that Henin and Williams had played each other in a Grand Slam tournament final.[61] Williams is the first female player to win consecutive Australian Open singles titles since Jennifer Capriati in 2001–02.[3] In doubles, Serena and Venus successfully defended their title by defeating the top-ranked team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the final, 6–4, 6–3.

A leg injury then caused Williams to withdraw from five consecutive tournaments, including the Premier 5 Dubai Tennis Championships and the Premier Mandatory Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne. She returned to the WTA Tour at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where she lost to Jelena Janković in the semifinals, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(5-7), after failing to convert a match point while serving at 5–4 in the third set, and then surrendering a 5–2 lead in the deciding tiebreaker.

At the Mutua Madrileña Madrid Open, she received a first-round bye. In her first match, she made 73 unforced errors in defeating Vera Dushevina in the longest match of her career, 3 hours, 26 minutes, 6–7, 7–6, 7–6. Williams saved a match point at 6–5 in the second set, then injured her upper leg early in the third set. She then fell to 16th seeded Nadia Petrova, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6. Williams won only two of her eighteen opportunities to break Petrova’s serve. She teamed with Venus to win the doubles title.

At the French Open, she lost to Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals, 3-6, 7-6, 6-8. Williams made 46 unforced errors and squandered a match point at 5–4 in the final set. It was the first Grand Slam tournament that Williams had not won or been defeated by the eventual champion since the 2008 French Open. Williams had not advanced past the quarterfinals at this event since 2003. She also played doubles with Venus as the top seeds. Their defeat of Huber and Anabel Medina Garrigues in the semifinals improved their doubles ranking to world no. 1. They then defeated 12th seeds Květa Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik in the final, 6–2, 6–3, to win their fourth consecutive Grand Slam women’s doubles title.

Her next tournament was Wimbledon, where she defeated Russian Vera Zvonareva in the final, 6–3, 6–2, without facing a break point and breaking the serve of Zvonareva three times.[62][63] She did not lose a set in the tournament.[64] After the match, Martina Navratilova said that Williams is in the top 5 of all the women’s tennis players in all of history, which she said that “it’s not just about how many Slams you win or how many tournaments you win—it’s just your game overall. And she’s definitely got all the goods.”[63] Serena was the defending champion in doubles with her sister Venus, winning the last two years. They lost in the quarterfinals to Elena Vesnina and Zvonareva, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6.

In Munich on July 7, Williams stepped on broken glass while in a restaurant.[65] She received 18 stitches, but the following day she lost an exhibition match to Kim Clijsters, 3-6, 2-6, in Brussels before a world-record crowd for a tennis match, 35,681 at the King Baudouin Stadium.[66] The cut foot turned out to be a serious injury, requiring surgery and preventing her from playing for the remainder of 2010. As a result, she lost the world no. 1 ranking to Dane Caroline Wozniacki on October 11, 2010[67] and ended the year ranked no. 4 in singles, despite having played only six tournaments, and no. 11 in doubles after four tournaments.

 2011: Comeback after medical complications

Because of her continuing rehabilitation for her foot injury, Serena withdrew from the 2011 Hopman Cup and the 2011 Australian Open.[68][69] On March 2, 2011, she confirmed that she had suffered a hematoma and a pulmonary embolism.[70][71][72] She made her first appearance on the WTA tour in almost a year at the 2011 AEGON International in Eastbourne,[73] winning her first match since Wimbledon, against Tsvetana Pironkova, but lost to top-seeded world no. 3 Vera Zvonareva in the second round, in a match that lasted over three hours.

Her next tournament was Wimbledon, where she was the defending champion. Despite being ranked no. 26, she was seeded seventh. In her first round match, she defeated French no. 2, Aravane Rezai. She then won her second round match against Simona Halep, and her third round against Maria Kirilenko. Her tournament ended when she lost to ninth seed, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in the round of 16.

Williams then played in Stanford as an unseeded player. She won her opening-round match against Anastasia Rodionova. In her second-round match, she took out Maria Kirilenko in three sets, to set up a meeting with Wimbledon finalist, Maria Sharapova. Serena won in straight sets. In the semifinals, Serena took on Wimbledon semifinalist, Sabine Lisicki and also defeated her in two sets. Serena won her first final of the season, against Marion Bartoli in two sets. Serena won her 38th career WTA singles title and her first title in 2011.

In her next tournament, Williams won the Rogers Cup, Serena started off strongly by beating Alona Bondarenko. In her second-round match, she beat Julia Goerges in straight sets, as well. After back-to-back three-setters against Jie Zheng and Lucie Safarova, the semifinals matched Serana against one of the most consistent players of the year, Viktoria Azarenka. Serena won, advancing to her second consecutive final. In the final, Serena defeated Samantha Stosur to win her second consecutive title and her 39th career title overall. At the Cincinnati Open, Serena defeated Lucie Hradecka, only to withdraw the next day, citing a right toe injury.

Next on her schedule was the US Open, in which she entered using her protected ranking of no. 1. She was seeded 28th and faced Bojana Jovanovski in the first round, winning the match easily. She next faced Michaëlla Krajicek, winning in two sets. In the third round she defeated Azarenka. She moved into the finals with two set wins over Ana Ivanovic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals. She lost the final, 2–6, 3–6, to Samantha Stosur, during a match which featured her verbally abusing the chair umpire.

The US Open final turned out to be Williams’ last match in 2011, and she ended the year ranked world no. 12 with 2 titles and with a 22–3 record for the season. She only participated in six tournaments throughout the season.

2012

Williams started the year by playing her debut at Brisbane International as her preparation for the Australian Open.[74] She defeated Chanelle Scheepers in the first round and Bojana Jovanovski in the second. However, during her match against Jovanovski, she injured her left ankle when serving for the match late in the second set. As a result, Williams was forced to withdraw from the tournament.[75] Next she participated at the Australian Open where she was seeded 12th. She defeated Tamira Paszek in the first round and Barbora Záhlavová-Strýcová in the second round.[76] She beat Hungarian Greta Arn in the third round.[77] Williams was knocked out of the Australian Open by Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-3. Serena however, came back from her loss at the Australian Open, by cruising to a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, victory over Anastasiya Yakimova, completing the U.S sweep over Belarus in the Fed Cup.

Posted February 14, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Olympians, Sports

Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Civil Rights Activists and Olympians   Leave a comment


Tommie Smith (born June 6, 1944)[1] is an African American former track & field athlete and wide receiver in the American Football League. At the 1968 Summer Olympics, Smith won the 200-meter dash finals in 19.83 seconds – the first time the 20 second barrier was broken. His Black Power salute with John Carlos atop the medal podium caused controversy at the time as it was seen as politicizing the Olympic Games. It remains a symbolic moment in the history of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

  Early life

While attending Lemoore High School, Smith showed great potential, setting most of the school’s track records, many of which remain. He won the 440 yard dash in the 1963 CIF California State Meet.[2] His achievements won him a scholarship to San Jose State.[3] On May 7, 1966, Smith set a world best of 19.5 seconds in the 200 meters and 220 yards in 1966, running on a straight cinder track at San Jose State.[4] That “world best” for 200 metres was finally beaten by Tyson Gay on May 16, 2010, just over 44 years later.,[5] though Smith still holds the best for the slightly longer 220 yard event. Since the IAAF has abandoned ratifying records for the event, Smith will retain the official record for the straightaway 200 metres/220 yards in perpetuity.[6] Smith won the national collegiate 220-yard (201.17 m) title in 1967 before adding the AAU furlong (201.17m) crown as well. He traveled to Japan for the 1967 Summer Universiade and won the 200 m gold medal. He repeated as AAU 200 m champion in 1968 and made the Olympic team.

 Career

In the 1968 Olympic Games at Mexico City, on 16 October, he won the gold medal for the 200 m in a world record time 19.83 s. He and a teammate, John Carlos, who earned the bronze medal, gave a Black Power salute while receiving their medals. Silver medalist Peter Norman, a white Australian, donned a human rights badge on the podium in support of their protest. (See 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.)

Some people (particularly IOC president Avery Brundage) felt that a political statement had no place in the international forum of the Olympic Games. In an immediate response to their actions, Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. team by Brundage and voluntarily moved from the Olympic Village. Brundage, who was president of the United States Olympic Committee in 1936, had made no objections against Nazi salutes during the Berlin Olympics.[7] The Nazi salute, being a national salute at the time, was accepted in a competition of nations, while the athletes’ salute was not of a nation and so was considered unacceptable.[7] People who opposed the protest said the actions disgraced all Americans. Supporters, on the other hand, praised the men for their bravery. The men’s gesture had lingering effects for all three athletes, the most serious of which were death threats against Smith, Carlos and their families.

During his career, Smith set seven individual world records and also was a member of several world-record relay teams at San Jose State, where he was coached by Lloyd (Bud) Winter. With personal records of 10.1 for 100 meters, 19.83 for 200 and 44.5 for the 400, Smith still ranks high on the world all-time lists. After graduating, Smith played professional football with the Cincinnati Bengals for three years.

After his track career, he became a member of the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1996, Smith was inducted into the California Black Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1999 he received that organization’s Sportsman of the Millennium Award. In 2000 – 2001 the County of Los Angeles and the State of Texas presented Smith with Commendation, Recognition and Proclamation Awards.

He later became a track coach at Oberlin College in Ohio, where he also taught sociology and until recently was a faculty member at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, California.

With author David Steele, Smith wrote his autobiography, entitled Silent Gesture, published in February 2007 by Temple University Press.

In August 2008, Tommie Smith gave 2008 Olympic triple gold winner Usain Bolt of Jamaica one of his shoes from the 1968 Olympics as a birthday gift.[8]

In 2010, Smith announced that he would sell the gold medal he won at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He put his gold medal for the 200 meters and spikes up for auction. The bid starts at $250,000, and the sale is scheduled to close November 4, 2010.[9]

  Recognition

For his life-long commitment to athletics, education, and human rights following his silent gesture of protest at the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City, Smith received the Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts.[10]

In 2005, a statue showing Smith and Carlos on the medal stand (but not Norman, whose silver medal position is vacant) was constructed by political artist Rigo 23 and dedicated on the campus of San Jose State University.[11]

A mural of the photo taken with Smith on the podium at the 1968 Olympics with Carlos and Norman was painted on the brick wall of a residence in Newtown, New South Wales, Australia, titled “Three Proud People, Mexico, 1968”. The mural faces the train tracks linking Sydney city to the Western and Southern Suburbs, and is no longer visible by thousands of commuters every day. Smith, along with Carlos, was a pallbearer at Norman’s funeral in Melbourne in 2006.[12]

On July 16, 2008, John Carlos and Tommie Smith accepted the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage for their salute at the 2008 ESPY Awards held at NOKIA Theatre L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles, California.

Posted February 14, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Olympians, Sports

John Baxter Taylor, African American Olympian Gold Medalist   3 comments


John Baxter Taylor Jr. (November 3, 1882, Washington, DC – December 2, 1908, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American track and field athlete, notable as the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, and the most prominent African American member of the Irish American Athletic Club. He was a member of the Sigma Pi Phi, the first black fraternity. [1]

Taylor was a member of the gold medal medley relay team at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. He ran the third leg, performing the 400 meters. He followed William Hamilton and Nate Cartmell and was followed by Mel Sheppard. (Taylor and Sheppard were classmates at Brown Prep school). In both the first round and the final, Taylor received a lead from Cartmell and passed one on to Sheppard. The team won both races, with times of 3:27.2 and 3:29.4. Taylor was the first African American to win an Olympic gold medal. His split for the final was 49.8 seconds.

He advanced to the finals in the men’s 400 metres race at the 1908 Summer Olympics, winning his preliminary heat with a time of 50.8 seconds and his semifinal with 49.8 seconds. In the first running of the race, Taylor came in last place out of the four runners. However, teammate John Carpenter was disqualified after being accused of obstructing British runner Wyndham Halswelle and the race was ordered to be repeated without Carpenter. Taylor and fellow American William Robbins refused to compete in the second final in protest of Carpenter’s disqualification. Wyndham Halswelle reluctantly ran the second final alone, with a time of 50 seconds, and was awarded the gold medal in the only walkover in Olympic history.

Less than five months after returning from the Olympic Games in London, Taylor died of typhoid fever on 2 December 1908 at the age of 26. In his obituary, The New York Times called him “the world’s greatest negro runner.”[1]

In a letter to Taylor’s parents, Harry Porter, fellow Irish American Athletic Club member and acting President of the 1908 U.S. Olympic Team wrote: “It is far more as the man (than the athlete) that John Taylor made his mark. Quite unostentatious, genial, (and) kindly, the fleet-footed, far-famed athlete was beloved wherever known…As a beacon of his race, his example of achievement in athletics, scholarship and manhood will never wane, if indeed it is not destined to form with that of Booker T. Washington.” [2][3]

Posted February 14, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Olympians, Sports