Betty Robinson
Betty Robinson 2.jpg
Personal information
BornAugust 23, 1911
Riverdale, Illinois, U.S.[1]
DiedMay 18, 1999(1999-05-18) (aged 87)
Denver, Colorado, U.S.[1]
Height5 ft 5+12 in (166 cm)
Weight126 lb (57 kg)
ClubICCW, Chicago[1]
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)50 y – 5.8 (1929)
100 m – 12.0 (1928)
200 m – 25.5 (1931)[2]

Elizabeth R. Schwartz (née Robinson; August 23, 1911 – May 18, 1999) was an American athlete and winner of the first Olympic 100 metres for women.[1]

Robinson was born in Riverdale, Illinois, and was a student at Thornton Township High School when she achieved national acclaim as an Olympic champion.

Her talent was discovered by her science teacher Charles Price, who saw her running to catch the train after school. He was a former athlete and the coach of the school team.[3]

Robinson ran her first official race on March 30, 1928, at the age of 16, at an indoor meet where she finished second to Helen Filkey, the US record holder at 100m, in the 60-yard dash.[4][5] At her next race on June 2, outdoors at 100 meters, she beat Filkey and equalled the world record, though her time was not recognized because it was deemed wind-aided.[6][5]

At the Amsterdam Olympics, her third 100m competition, Robinson was the only US athlete to qualify for the 100m final.[3] She reached the final and won, equaling the world record of 12.2 seconds. She was the inaugural Olympic champion in the event, since athletics for women had not been on the program before, and its inclusion was in fact still heavily disputed among officials.[7] She remains the youngest athlete to win Olympic 100m gold.[3] With the American 4×100 metres relay team, Robinson added a silver medal to her record.[7]

Six decades later, Robinson was interviewed for a book with the title Tales of Glory: An Oral History of the Summer Olympic Games Told By America’s Gold Medal Winners, by Lewis H. Carlson and John J Fogarty. This is how she remembered the 100m race:

I can remember breaking the tape, but I wasn’t sure that I’d won. It was so close. But my friends in the stands jumped over the railing and came down and put their arms around me, and then I knew I’d won. Then, when they raised the flag, I cried.

In a post-match video available on YouTube, Robinson smiled, bewildered, at the camera, then smiled again with an open, unsophisticated smile of teenage delight, an embarrassment that often accompanies such interest. She was a star.[5] Chicago Tribune reporter William L Shirer wrote that ‘an unheralded, pretty, blue-eyed blond young woman from Chicago became the darling of the spectators when she flew down the cinder path, her golden locks flying, to win’.[5]

She joined Northwestern University where she decided to pursue a physical education degree, hoping to become a coach at the 1936 Olympics.[3] At Northwestern University, she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.[8]

On 28 June 1931, Robinson was involved in a plane crash, and was severely injured. Initial reports had her being discovered unconscious in the wreckage, wrongly thought dead by her rescuer. Actually, the man merely thought she was beyond saving. He took her to Oak Forest infirmary, locally known as the "Poor Farm", because he knew the undertaker.[9] Doctors determined she had suffered severe multiple injuries[10] and she would never race again.[3] It was another six months before she could get out of a wheelchair, and two years before she could walk normally again.[11] Meanwhile, she missed the 1932 Summer Olympics in her home country.

Still unable to kneel for a normal 100 m start due to the fractures and surgeries on her left leg,[3] Robinson was a part of the US team of 4 × 100 metres relay at the 1936 Summer Olympics. The US team was running behind the heavily favored Germans, but the Germans dropped the baton. Robinson took the lead and handed off the baton to Helen Stephens resulting in her second Olympic gold medal.[12][1]

Retiring after the Berlin Olympics, Schwartz remained involved in athletics as an official.[1] She got married, had two children and moved to the town of Glencoe, on Chicago’s North Shore, where she worked in a hardware store for many years.[5] In 1977 she was inducted into the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame. In 1996 she carried the Olympic Torch for the Atlanta Games with joy and pride.[3]

She died aged 87, suffering from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Betty Robinson". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020.
  2. ^ "Elizabeth Robinson".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Betty Robinson: the sprint star who 'rose from the dead'". World Athletics. August 8, 2021. Archived from the original on October 7, 2021. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  4. ^ Eric L. Cowe (2005) Early Women's Athletics: Statistics and History, Volume Two, privately printed, ISBN 9780953703005, p. 69.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Carroll, John (March 7, 2019). "Betty Robinson: the fastest woman in the world who came back from the dead". Runner's World. Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  6. ^ Gergen 2014, p. 12.
  7. ^ a b "Elizabeth ROBINSON". Olympics. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  8. ^ Fowler, Ellen Margaret (1964). "Alumnae News, Mid-Winter 1964". The Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Kappa Kappa Gamma. p. 70.
  9. ^ Karen Rosen (April 28, 2015). "Betty Robinson: The Olympic Gold Medalist Who "Came Back From The Dead"". Team USA. Retrieved September 17, 2020.
  10. ^ Roseanne Montillo (2017) "Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women", Crown, ISBN 9781101906156, pp. 3-5, 125-30
  11. ^ Gergen 2014.
  12. ^ Gergen 2014, pp. 146–7.

Further reading

Records Preceded byKinue Hitomi Women's 100 m world record holder June 2, 1928 – June 5, 1932 Succeeded byTollien Schuurman