By: Scott RossPublished: September 27, 2022

Mildred Ella Didrikson Zaharias

Mildred Ella Didrikson Zaharias was probably the greatest all-around female in America during the twentieth century, and quite possibly the greatest in the whole world. And she knew it, once declaring when she was but 19 years old that there was no women "who rivals me very closely as an athlete," and man did she have the receipts, as the kids say.

Didrikson kicked off her 1931 campaign by leading her AAU team to the national basketball championship, but it was at that year's Women's National Track & Field Championships that she exploded on the sporting scene, taking gold medals with a world-record time of 12 seconds in the 80-meter hurdles, a long jump of 17 feet 11.5 inches, and a baseball throw of 296 feet.

Despite her three victories in 1931, her team had finished in second place. In 1932, she decided to go it alone, competing in ten events by herself, winning five outright and tying for first in another, to singlehandedly win the team title.

From there it was on to the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where she broke her on 80-meter hurdle record to win gold, set an Olympic record in the javelin throw for a second gold medal, and won a silver in the high jump, thus becoming the only Olympian ever to win a medal for running, jumping and throwing. Annoyingly, the International Olympic Committee of the time limited women to just three events, who knows how many medals she might have won that year.

She then spent time on the vaudeville circuit, played pool and barnstormed with her own basketball team. Then, in 1935, she began to focus on golf, but was denied amateur status, and so three years later played in the Los Angeles Open, a men's event, where she was paired with George Zaharias, a pro wrestling heel known as the "The Crying Greek from Cripple Creek" and a minister, the promoter thinking the trio would make for a good laugh. Babe missed the cut, shooting 81 and 84, but eleven months later, Babe and George were married--sadly, the third member of their trio did not officiate.

Babe approached golf with a maniacal level of focus and determination, sometimes driving as many 1,000 balls a day, and typically went 240 yards off the tee, an astonishing distance giving that the 2021 LPGA average is just 256, despite the huge advances in club technology and training.

"It's not just enough to swing at the ball," she once said. "You've got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it."

Babe at one point won 14 straight tournaments as an amateur, then helped found the LPGA, where she went on to win 10 majors. Her last Major victory came in the 1954 US Open, which she won by 12 strokes, despite having battled colon cancer the previous year.

"It will show a lot of people that they need not be afraid of an operation and can go on and live a normal life," she commented shortly after this triumph.

Babe spent the next two years as an outspoken advocate for cancer awareness, research, and fundraising, before finally passing away on September 27, 1956.

Her sporting career began in her parents' garage, where she lifted weights made of broomsticks and flat irons; she played baseball, preferably shortstop, once hitting five homers in a single game, which according to dubious legend is how she got the nickname "Babe"; and she was a champion in basketball, track & field, and golf. She was honored as the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year a record six times across a record span of 23 years.

When asked in her youth which sport she did best, she didn't miss a beat.

"I do everything best."


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