• Charles Geckler
  • Babe Didrikson

Do you think you’re seeing some incredible athletic performances in this year’s Olympics? I thought so too, until I started reading about Babe Didrikson and what she did right here in Evanston one afternoon 80 years ago, just to qualify for the Olympics.

On July 16, 1932, at the National AAU championships at Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field), the 19-year-old from Texas showed up as the lone representative of the Employers Casualty Company Club—the insurance company she worked for as a clerk. She was competing against teams of from a dozen to 22 women.

For three hours, in oppressive temperatures, she rushed from one event to the next, quickly changing shoes when necessary. She won the shot put, the javelin, the broad jump, the 80-meter hurdles, and the baseball throw, and tied for first in the high jump. She totaled 30 points for her “team”—eight more points than the runner-up Illinois Women’s Athletic Club, which had 22 members. She set four world records. “There were other encouraging performances,” the Associated Press reported, “but the Texas girl’s achievements came in such rapid succession that the crowd of about 5,000 had little chance to pay attention to any one else.”