In the world of sports, there are athletes who excel in certain fields while there are those who are great in not one but two kinds of sports. Althea Gibson is one female athlete who fits the description. She made a mark in tennis and golf. Born on August 25, 1927 in South Carolina, it was in New York where she grew up and honed her athletic skills. In the span of her career, she had not been spared from racial discrimination, two failed marriages and poverty yet she became an icon in sports, particularly, tennis. Here are some of the accomplishments of Althea Gibson as an athlete.
1. Grand Slam Winner
In 1956, she became a grand slam winner when she won the French Open, for singles. On top of this, she was the first African American to ever be awarded this title. For the doubles, she played alongside British Angela Buxton where they also won the match.
2. All Firsts
Aside from being the first woman of color to be a grand slam winner, Althea Gibson had several firsts in her career and in the world of tennis. In 1950, at the height of the lobbying of ATA officials and four time U.S. champion Alice Marble, she was the first African American player to be invited and selected to play at the then U.S. National Championships at the young age of 23. The year after, she also earned her first international win in Jamaica at the Caribbean Championships. It was also in that year when she became the first black person to be in the Wimbledon. Before the end of the 1957 season, she became the first African American tennis player to join the U.S Wightman Cup team where they defeat Great Britain.
3. Wimbledon and Other Championships
Gibson competed against the best tennis players in the world, in Europe and Asia, and won 16 games out of the 18 she competitions she joined. It was also in 1956 when she won three competitions. One was again with Buxton at the Wimbledon and when she won in July of 1957, it was Queen Elizabeth II herself who handed her the trophy and she made another history by being the first African American winner in the tournament’s 80 years of existence. She also bagged an Italian National Championship as well as the Asian Championship in 1957. All in all, she won five grand slam singles titles and six grand slam doubles titles.
4. Female Athlete of the Year
For two years, Althea Gibson was the top seed not only in the United States but also in the world. It was in 1957 and 1958. These accomplishments convinced the Associated Press to name her “Female Athlete of the Year”. Consequently, she graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time and became the first black American to achieve this.
5. Extensive Career
Aside from her accomplishments in tennis, Gibson also dabbled in other sports. At the age of 37, she became a professional golfer and was the first black American woman to join the LPGA. She also became a professional singer, recording the album Althea Gibson Sings. Her other careers included being a tennis coach, sports commentator and New Jersey’s Athletic Commissioner, among others. She was also the American woman to hold the position of athletic commissioner.