Estill's Ludy Godbold was the first South Carolinian to compete in the Olympic Games - and she won two gold medals at the 1922 Olympics in Paris!
by Blanche Floyd
"ESTILL WELCOMES OLYMPIC VICTOR"
A headline and article in The State newspaper in September 1922 recounted the events of a happy day of celebration and welcome-home activities in the Hampton County town of Estill. . Estill had designated September 7 "Godbold Day" in honor of Lucille Ellerbe Godbold, better known to everyone locally as "Ludy." Newspapers around the world were recounting the feats of the famous athlete, winner of two Olympic gold medals in Paris, and everyone wanted to see her.
A stage had been erected on Main Street, beautifully decorated in the garnet and gold colors of Winthrop College, Godbold's alma mater. About 1,500 people gathered for the program and festivities. Mayor Walter Theus escorted Godbold to the stage and introduced her to Gov. and Mrs. Wilson G. Harvey. It was the first time in anyone's memory a governor had visited Estill.
These hometown folks had watched her grow up, and as she spoke, Godbold delighted them with her wit and enthusiasm. She described her experiences onboard the ship en route to France and her struggles with the French language, and they loved it. To the rest of the world she was a celebrity, but in Estill she was the same friendly girl they had known and loved, and they were proud of her.
GODBOLD WAS THE FIRST South Carolinian, man or woman, to compete in the Olympics; 1922 was the first year women could qualify. In Paris, she was selected for the high honor of carrying the American flag for her team in the opening ceremonies. Then she set about accumulating her medals. She won a gold in the shotput, establishing a new world record. Her second gold came in the hop-step-jump race. She placed second in the basketball throw, third in the javelin throw and 1,000-meter race. Her 18 points topped all contestants.
Godbold was born in Marion County May 31, 1900. Her family moved to McColl, Wagener, then Estill, where she graduated from high school. She fondly claimed Estill as her hometown.
A thin girl who always seemed taller than her friends, she was endeared to everyone for her good humor and sincerity. At Winthrop, she was quick to take advantage of the classes, the gymnasium and the athletic equipment available to all students. When the annual spring track meet was held, Godbold took part and broke world throws in the discus throw, shotput and hop-step-jump race. Her coach excitedly encouraged her to try out for the Olympic team, and the student body raised money to send her to Mamaroneck, NY, for the Olympic trials. Again she broke records, and was chosen to go to Paris.
Having made her mark as an Olympic champion, at the end of September 1922 she began her first and only teaching job. For 58 years she was on the faculty at Columbia College, where she was known as "Miss Ludy" to generations of students. She taught physical education - a required course - to every girl who attended the college, and they loved her. A favorite college memory is Godbold's deep, gruff voice yelling at a hapless girl on the hocky field or tennis court; in retrospect, it was almost an honor.
Godbold was to win repeated acclaim. Her name appeared in the 1928 edition of Who's Who in American Sports. She was cited for her achievements as an athlete and teacher in the first Who's Who of American Women in 1957. She also was listed in Outstanding Personalities of the South, Dictionary of International Biography and World's Who's Who of Women in Education.
In 1961, she was the first woman elected to the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1972, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her Olympic achievements, the town of Estill erected a marker in her honor. Columbia College presented her with its most prestigious honor, the Columbia College Medallion, in 1980.
Godbold died in Columbia April 5, 1981. From across the state, people gathered to pay tribute to the athlete, teacher, humorist and beloved friend. Hers was a legacy not just of athletic endowment, but of modesty, integrity and loyalty.
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