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The Life of Helen Stephens: The Fulton Flash
     

The Life of Helen Stephens: The Fulton Flash

by Sharon Kinney Hanson, Bob Broeg
 

A teenaged Helen Stephens stunned the crowd at the 1936 Berlin Olympics when she emerged from obscurity to run the 100 meters in 11.5 seconds, setting a world record that wouldn’t be beat for twenty-four years. But her career or her notoriety didn’t peak there. She sued Look magazine for insinuating she was a man and won. She was the first woman

Overview

A teenaged Helen Stephens stunned the crowd at the 1936 Berlin Olympics when she emerged from obscurity to run the 100 meters in 11.5 seconds, setting a world record that wouldn’t be beat for twenty-four years. But her career or her notoriety didn’t peak there. She sued Look magazine for insinuating she was a man and won. She was the first woman to own and manage a basketball team and went on to actively participate in the sporting world as a coach, a mentor, and a senior competitor. At the time of her death in 1994 she had set the record for the longest athletic career in the world.

The Life of Helen Stephens: The Fulton Flash tracks the athlete’s rise from an awkward farm girl in Fulton, Missouri, to an international sports icon and record-breaking Olympic sprinter. Capturing the drama of Stephens’s personal saga as well as the development of the modern Olympic games, this compelling biography also calls attention to barriers female athletes overcame to participate in amateur and professional sports. Authorized biographer Sharon Kinney Hanson is the first person allowed to read and quote from Stephens’s correspondence and diaries, including her account of her experiences as an eighteen year old in Nazi Germany during the Berlin Olympics, when her instant fame brought her face-to-face with Adolf Hitler.

Interviews with Stephens and her colleagues, coach, friends, and family members offer additional glimpses into the life of one of America’s pioneer athletes. As inspiring as her athletic accomplishments are, Stephens’s prevailing influence on athletics is even more notable. As a senior athlete, she participated in and encouraged other women to participate in the new athletic opportunities that were, in part, brought about by the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s as well as the implementation of Title IX in the 1970s and beyond. Depictions of the athlete’s family life and school years amid the sociopolitical climate of rural, post-World War I America are complemented by insights into Olympic boycotts, gender-testing of female athletes, the women’s movement, and gay rights.

The Life of Helen Stephens recounts her international career and the personal obstacles she overcame as a poor farm girl on scholarship to an upper-class private women’s college, as a female athlete in the male-dominated realm of athletics, and as a closeted lesbian in the worldwide spotlight. Through her spirited retelling of Stephens’s experiences, Hanson effectively showcases the pride Stephens inspired in Missourians and veritably points to the path she cleared for female athletes around the world. Down-to-earth, witty, and compassionate, Stephens loved history and the nuances of the English language, and Hanson’s homage is a fitting and superbly documented reflection of the life of a true American hero. The volume is supplemented by twenty-two illustrations and a foreword by St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Helen Stephens’s story touches so many of the big moments and emerging issues of American sports in the 1930s and 40s. Her life was rich with adventure, controversy, and accomplishment.  More people should be familiar with The Fulton Flash. And now, thanks to Sharon Kinney Hanson’s carefully researched biography—they will be.”—Bob Costas

“Olympic gold medalist of the 1930s, multisport athlete, brash, cocky, and controversialsound like Babe Didrikson? Missouri farm girl Helen Stephens shares some characteristics with her idol, but she never matched Babe's fame. Authorized biographer Hanson, a local Missouri freelance writer, interviewed Stephens before her death in 1994 and accessed her huge memorabilia collection. . . . Hanson has served ‘her story’ well.”Library Journal

Library Journal
Olympic gold medalist of the 1930s, multisport athlete, brash, cocky, and controversial-sound like Babe Didrikson? Missouri farm girl Helen Stephens shares some characteristics with her idol, but she never matched Babe's fame. Authorized biographer Hanson, a local Missouri freelance writer, interviewed Stephens before her death in 1994 and accessed her huge memorabilia collection. Wisely, she focuses on Stephens's 1936 Olympic diaries, providing a teenager's matchless view of the historic, myth-shrouded Berlin games. After winning gold in the 4x100 relay and the world record-setting 100m, she got Hitler's autograph, was invited to his headquarters (she declined), and endured a bizarre pass from Goering (which she also declined). Adulated back home, she sought a living in sports, giving exhibitions, barnstorming with her own basketball team, and advocating for women's sports. Although the story's pure drama declines after Helen's Olympic heights, Hanson has served "herstory" well. Recommended for women's studies, history collections, and gay studies in college libraries (Stephens was a closeted lesbian) and for larger public libraries.-Kathy Ruffle, Coll. of New Caledonia Lib., Prince George, B.C. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809325597
Publisher:
Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date:
11/28/2004
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
296
Product dimensions:
16.20(w) x 24.20(h) x 2.40(d)

Meet the Author

Sharon Kinney Hanson, the only authorized biographer of Helen Stephens, is a writer and editor whose articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications. She is the editor of Memories and Memoirs: Essays, Poems, Stories, Letters by Contemporary Missouri Authors and The First Anthology of Missouri Women Writers.

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