The First Lady of Olympic Track

Trade Paper – $21.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-2958-0
Publication Date
April 2014
Page Count
224 pages
Trim Size
5-1/2 x 8-1/2

The First Lady of Olympic Track

The Life and Times of Betty Robinson
Joe Gergen

The 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam were the first in which women—over the objections of many, including Pope Pius XI and the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin—were allowed to run in the marquee track events.

Equally remarkable is the story behind the first female gold medal winner in the 100-meter dash, sixteen-year-old American Betty Robinson. A prodigy running in just her fourth organized meet, Robinson stunned the world, earning special praise from the president of the 1928 American Olympic Committee, General Douglas MacArthur. But Robinson’s triumph soon became tragedy when in 1931 she was involved in a life-threatening plane crash. Unable to assume a sprinter’s crouch, she nevertheless joined fellow pioneer Jesse Owens at the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics, and achieved further glory on the relay team. Journalist Joe Gergen’s The First Lady of Olympic Track rescues an exceptional figure from obscurity.

About the Author

JOE GERGEN was a sports writer and columnist for Newsday for forty years. He also has written for numerous other publications, including Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, and New York magazine. His previous books include The Final Four (1987) and, with Ralph Kiner, Kiner’s Korner (1987).


“More than just a beautifully told story of one of the most stirring triumphs against the odds in Olympic history, The First Lady of Olympic Track is a concise, and often maddening, story of women’s battle for equal rights on the playing field and a superb short history of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Betty Robinson is an irresistibly appealing young woman and Joe Gergen deserves our thanks for rescuing her from the mists of the past.” —Ron Rapoport, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times

“Betty Robinson may not be as famous as some other track Olympians who came after her, but as Joe Gergen points out in his inspiring new book, Robinson ought to be. Whether it was winning the first Olympic 100-meter dash ever run for women, overcoming the horrific injuries she suffered in a plane crash to compete again alongside Jesse Owens in 1936 at ‘Hitler’s Olympics’ in Berlin, or, later, championing women's rights, Robinson’s story is one that deserves to be told and retold.” —Johnette Howard, columnist, author of The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova

“Betty Robinson’s strength, courage, and spirit of adventure live again in Joe Gergen’s vivid telling.” —Dave Kindred, author of Sound and Fury:Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship