top of page

"The fastest woman on earth" The 1960 Olympics

Rome, Italy

The 1960 games were the first to be nationally broadcast in North America. TV was still relatively new and most TV stations broadcast in black and white. In sports, while some opportunities were increasing for women, women still only comprised 11% of all competitors. All images below are from vintage trading cards with the exception of the gymnast.

For Americans, women did the best in the speed events.


The swimming competition was limited to 400m as the longest distance women could swim. American’s won Gold in every swimming event except for the 100m freestyle and the 200m breaststroke. American Chris von Saltza won four medals: gold in the 400m freestyle (OR), 4x100 freestyle relay (WR) and the 4x100 medley relay (WR). and silver in the 100m freestyle.

Dutch trading card of von Saltza pictured right

Track and Field

Wilma Rudolph, known as "the fastest woman on earth" won three gold medals:100m, 200m and the 4 x 100m relay. This was the first time that a woman won three golds at an Olympics. But what’s really remarkable about Wilma was that her life didn’t start on the easy track. She was born premature, weighing only 4.5 pounds. She had polio as a child and wore leg braces until she was 11 years old. She also endured pneumonia and scarlet fever. She was the 20th of 22 children.

By 1960, Wilma was no stranger to the Olympics. She made her Olympic debut in the 1956 games at the age of 16, winning the bronze medal in the 4 x 100 relay.

"Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday."

Swedish trading card of Wilma Rudolph

Video of Wilma Rudolph

The rest of the track and field events were all won by the Soviet Union, except for Romania winning the high jump. Iolanda Balas was the first woman to jump over six feet…and high jumpers still used the scissor kick form back then! She slightly modified the style. She is considered one of the best high jumpers in history, setting the world record 14 times.

In track and field, the longest distance women could run was 800m (two laps around the track). The 800 made its debut in 1928 but wasn’t held again for women until 1960.


The Gymnastics competition belonged to the Soviet Union. There were six areas of competition and of the three medals in each (Bronze, Silver, and Gold), the Soviet Union won 15 of the 18 medals. Women had the team all-around, individual all-around, balance beam, floor, uneven bars, and the vault. From that team came Larisa Latynina.

She is credited with winning the most Olympic medals of any athlete, until Michael Phelps surpassed her record of 18 medals. She held this record held for 48 years. In the 1960 games, she won three gold medals, two bronze, and one silver medal.

56 views0 comments
bottom of page