Willye White


Class of 1957

Willye White

Many of the female track and field pioneers of the early- to mid-part of the 20th century who were able to earn Olympic fame in their high school years quickly moved on to other things after their achievements. Much of this was due to limited opportunity and societal expectations, as well as other factors. So for Willye White to earn an Olympic medal at the amazing age of 16, as she did in the long jump in 1956 – and then persevere and excel through four more Olympiads – was an unprecedented achievement. White was 32 when she competed in her fifth and final Games in Munich in 1972.

As a junior at Broad Street HS in Mississippi in 1956, White set her first HS record with an 18-6 at the AAU girls championship. She was a key contender for Team USA for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne at that point, and upper her game even further in the Trials, reaching 19-3 ¾ and taking 2nd behind American record-holder Margaret Matthews. In Melbourne, Matthews did not make the final, but White further improved her HSR to a stunning 19-8 ¼ to take silver behind world-record setter Elżbieta Krzesińska of Poland. She also won a silver in the 4×100 relay.

As a senior, White won the AAU girls title she missed out on in ’56, then headed to Tennessee State U. to compete for Coach Ed Temple and the Tigerbelles – as fellow Hall of Famers Chandra Cheeseborough and Kathy McMillan would do almost 20 years later. Over her long career, White won 13 national indoor and outdoor titles and set seven U.S. records in the long jump. Her last record of 21-6 stood from 1964 until 1972. She was also a member of more than 30 international track and field teams.

Did You Know?

Willye White also served USA Track and Field as a national team coach for the 1981 World Cup and 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival.