Go for the Gold Throughout Life

The 2000 Olympic Games kicked off this week in Sydney, Australia. MARY REESE BOYKIN spoke to two Southern California women with connections to the Olympics, one a gold medal holder and the other a participant in this year's Games

Nada Kawar, a 1998 graduate of UCLA, will represent her native Jordan in the shot put. Wyomia Tyus, a naturalist with the Los Angeles Unifed School District, won Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter dash in both 1964 and 1968. Tyus was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1980 and into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1985.



Shot putter, UCLA graduate

The atmosphere in Sydney will be more electric for me than the Atlanta Olympics because in 1996, I was really young--just in my second year in college. I wasn’t throwing far at all; in fact, I wasn’t near the standards of other competitors, even though I was the best athlete in the shot put from Jordan. This time, it’s different because I am ready. If I make the finals, it will be the first time that anyone from Jordan will have made an Olympic final in any event.

While I consider the U.S. my home, I still identify myself as an Arab, a Jordanian. Jordanians accept me, and they are really excited for me.


Academics were always important to me and to my parents. The reason that we immigrated to America was that my dad wanted to give my sisters and me a better education, better opportunities.

When I visited UCLA before my senior year of high school, shot putters and discus throwers Dawn Dumble and John Godina, both UCLA juniors at the time, were preparing for the Olympic trials. Their dedication inspired me. Before I entered college, though, I had surgery for a herniated disk in my lower back. I had a coach who was supportive, willing to redshirt me for my freshman year. I had a team of doctors and therapists whose care became a turning point in my life. The experience convinced me that I wanted to become a physician.

Because medical school began in August, I deferred my enrollment at the University of Washington at St. Louis--I have a scholarship--until the fall of 2001.

When I was in the 10th grade, my English teacher assigned the class to write a letter about what our goals were. She kept those letters and mailed them to us three years later. I reached my goals, including being a valedictorian of my high school class.

Young people should let their athletic development take its natural course. They should be motivated and focused, but they should keep a balance in everything they do.



100-meter Olympic gold medalist, 1964 and 1968

Iwas happy to be in Tokyo in 1964 representing the U.S. I was 19 and no one--including me--expected me to win. The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City were quite different. At 23, people thought that I was too old to be a contender. My goal was to show that I still had what it took to be an Olympian. I won the 100-meter dash in 11.08 seconds, a new world record.


During the ‘50s and ‘60s, colleges did nothing for women athletes. Tennessee State University (a historically black college) was the only university that offered women athletic scholarships. We competed with athletes from track clubs, not from other universities. Our scholarship was actually work-aid, since we had to work two hours daily.

Coach Ed Temple came into my life after my father died. A man of integrity, Coach Temple had many sayings to encourage us during the rough times. “Only the pure of heart will survive,” he would say to me. He also had academic goals for the team: He expected each athlete to earn a college diploma.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, women athletes were not accepted by the public. Women were not expected to be athletes. We didn’t have “she-roes.”

During my training at Tennessee, females didn’t train with weights, as the girls do today. And unlike other college athletes who were required to practice four or five hours a day, our training was for two hours. We practiced on a dirt track, so there were potholes when it rained. But we knew the quality of the track didn’t make the athlete and that there were always obstacles. We didn’t complain that we did not have the best. To the contrary, we thought that what we had was the best.

While he motivated us to become the best athletes we could, Coach Temple insisted: “You are a lady first.” We knew that the public would judge us by our appearance, so even after an Olympic race, we asked the press to give us a few minutes to freshen up first. Today, the public wants to see female athletes sweat.

I won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter dash, a feat that no athlete had accomplished previously and one that was not equaled until 1996 by Gail Devers. If I were a male, I might have gotten more attention. I think it’s great that track athletes today are paid for their performance and through endorsements. I wasn’t paid a dime for my track career. But participating in the Olympics gave me the opportunity to learn about different cultures; it made me a better person. I wouldn’t trade the time I competed for anything.