Olympic hurdler Mamie Rallins remembered for her tenacity on and off the track

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Legendary TSU track and field coach Ed Temple and others say the tenacity of Olympian Mamie Rallins allowed her to overcome hurdles on the course, and in life.

Rallins, 74, died May 16 in a car crash in Ohio.

She was a hurdler for Temple at Tennessee State University when she was in her early thirties. Temple said in an interview shortly after Rallins’ death that she didn’t let her age hinder her success.

TSU Director of Athletics, Teresa Lawrence-Phillips, left, presents Mamie Rallins with a plaque at the Breakfast of Champions luncheon marking the TSU Centennial Celebration in 2012. (photo by John Cross, TSU Media Relations)

“She was a hard worker,” said Temple. “She was determined.”

In the book, “A Will to Win,” co-author Dwight Lewis writes about Rallins’ rough upbringing on Chicago’s Southside and her desire to escape her environment.

The only girl among five boys, Rallins’ mother died when she was 13. She was raised by her father.

“It was rough,” Rallins said in the book. “When I was in high school, I saw that by running track I might be able to get out; and even maybe travel around the world someday.”

Rallins eventually became a world-class runner, specializing in hurdling.

At age 27, she ran the 80-meter hurdles for her team in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and won the first heat in 10.6 seconds. She placed fifth in the semifinals with a time of 10.7 seconds. Sports Illustrated covered the Olympics and in one of its articles wrote the following about Rallins:

“Mamie Rallins, that tiny-waisted thing who does not look strong enough to handle a hurdle, always does. It was typical: the gun went off and here came Mamie—who had politely waited for the other girls to start first, since Mamie is courteous that way—suddenly moving so fast that she seemed to be taking tippy-toes steps between the hurdles and passing everybody easily.”

During a meet in Romania, Temple said Rallins approached him about attending college at TSU. Temple helped get her a scholarship, and she enrolled at TSU in the fall of 1971 at the age of 30 and became one of the famous Tigerbelles, who won 23 Olympic medals under Temple.

When Rallins got to TSU, Temple didn’t allow freshmen to have cars, so she had to park hers.

“She had to change a lot of things that she used to do to comply with the freshman requirements,” Temple recalled. “But she moved right along.”

Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice, TSU’s director of track and field and a former Tigerbelle, said she was in high school when she first met Rallins in 1975. Cheeseborough-Guice said Rallins left a lasting impression on her because “she treated me with respect, even though I was a high schooler.”

Looking back, Cheeseborough-Guice said she admires Rallins’ willingness to do what was needed to further her education.

“She was determined to get an education no matter how old she was,” said Cheeseborough-Guice.

Rallins went on to compete in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. She graduated with a business degree from TSU in 1976, and later became head coach of the track and field/cross country programs at Ohio State University, Hampton University and Chicago State University.

She was the first African-American woman to coach at Ohio State and also served as an assistant athletic director for three years.

At the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia, Rallins worked as the head manager for the USA women’s track and field team.

Lewis said Rallins’ achievements show that she was “more than an Olympian.”

“She will remain an inspiration to people everywhere, that with determination, no goal is out of reach,” Lewis said.

Department of Media Relations

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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.