Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias (June 26, 1911 – September 27, 1956) was an American athlete, who excelled in many sports. She achieved her greatest successes in golf and athletics. She was born Mildred Didriksen (her surname was later accidentally changed) in the town of Port Arthur, Texas and acquired her nickname "Babe" (after Babe Ruth) after she hit five home runs in a single baseball game.
She first became known as an athlete, competing in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She entered three events there, the javelin throw, the 80 m hurdles and the high jump. She would have entered more events if she could, but this was not allowed - at the Olympic Trials prior to the Games, she had entered no less than eight events. She nearly won all three events she entered: she won a gold medal in the javelin and hurdles, and cleared the same height as her compatriot Jean Shiley in the high jump. The jury, however, disapproved of her style and declared Shiley the Olympic champion. After the Games, Shiley and Didrikson split their medals.
Babe Zaharias as
depicted on a 1981
In 1938, she married George Zaharias , a former wrestler. Later she divorced him after he revealed he was a homosexual. Some years earlier, she had picked up the sport of golf, the sport by which she would become most famous. She became America's first female golf celebrity and leading player of the 1940s and early 1950s. Although originally classified as a professional, she won back her amateur status during the Second World War and won the 1946-47 U.S. Women's Amateur as well as the 1947 British Amateur and three Western Open victories. Formally turning professional in 1947, she dominated the WPGA and later the LPGA (of which she was a founding member) until illness shortened her career in the mid-1950s. She won the 1947 Titleholders Championship and the 1948 U.S. Women's Open for her fourth and fifth major championships.
Zaharias had her greatest year in 1950 when she completed the Grand Slam of the three women's majors of the day, the US Open, the Titleholders Championship, and the Western Open, in addition to leading the money-list. She was the leading money-winner again in 1951 and in 1952 took another major with a Titleholders victory, but illness prevented her from playing a full schedule in 1952-53. She made a comeback in 1954 and took the Vare Trophy and her tenth and final major with a U.S. Women's Open championship. Her cancer reappeared in 1955 and limited her schedule to eight events, but she managed two wins which were her final ones in competitive golf. Cancer took its toll and Zaharias died in 1956 while still in the top rank of female American golfers.
On six occasions, she was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and in 1950, she was voted Woman Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century in an Associated Press poll. She was also the highest ranked woman on ESPN's list of the 50 top athletes of the 20th century.
- This life I've lead: My autobiography, by Babe Didrikson Zaharias, New York, 1955
- Babe: The Life and Legend of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, by Susan Cayleff, 1996.
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