Gail Devers is an American retired track and field athlete who won the gold medal at the Olympic Games twice in 100m and once as part of the United States Olympic Team in 4x100 m relay. Counted amongst the fastest female track and field athletes of all time, she is also an inductee of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Born in Seattle, Washington, she took to running at a young age. She raced with her brother as a little girl and once she was able to consistently beat him, she began looking out for newer opponents to beat. She participated in several school races during her student years and helped her team win the San Diego sectional track and field team title. Her sports record as a high school student was so good that she received many offers of athletic scholarships and chose the University of California, Los Angeles. She trained under coach Bob Kersee who forced the athlete to push her limits and groomed her into a formidable runner in international competitions. She gained much fame following her 100m victory at Pan American Games in 1987 and seemed to be headed for greater success when she became ill with Graves’ disease. Following a grueling treatment regime, she made a spectacular comeback at the 1992 Summer Olympics, winning the gold in the 100m.
Childhood & Early Life
Yolanda Gail Devers was born in Seattle on November 19, 1966. Her father was a minister while her mother was a teacher. She has one elder brother, Parenthesis, who grew up to become a professional bodybuilder. *When the children were young, she used to race with her brother and trained hard to be able to beat him. A good runner, she soon started participating in races at her school, Sweetwater High School, and helped her team win several awards in interschool competitions.
She won the 100m race and 100m hurdles at the state championships in 1984, the year she graduated from high school. Her amazing performances earned her many offers of athletic scholarships from prestigious institutions and she chose to join University of California at Los Angeles where she trained under the legendary coach Bob Kersee
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In 1987, she gave a superb performance at the Pan American Games, winning gold medals in the 100m dash and the 4x100m relay. Hailed to be a rising star, she started training for the 1988 Summer Olympics.
In 1988, she started experiencing some health problems. She suffered from weight loss, skin discoloration, hair loss, migraines, and other issues but her condition could not be diagnosed. Despite her health problems she qualified for the Olympics 100m hurdles, in which she was eliminated in the semi-finals.
Her health continued to deteriorate over the following months and she was finally diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid, in 1990. She underwent a grueling treatment regime that included radioactive iodine treatment followed by thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
The disease and the treatment took its toll on the young woman’s body and she developed blistering and swelling on her feet that were so severe that the runner could barely walk and had to crawl and or be carried. Her condition worsened to the extent that a doctor suggested amputating her feet.
Ever the courageous soul, she refused to give up to the disease and bravely fought back. Incredibly, she made a considerable recovery and was soon able to regain the use of her feet.
With her health stabilized, she started training again to regain her strength in order to be able to return to competitive athletics. She participated in the 1991 World Championships and won a silver medal in the 100m hurdles.
The year 1992 proved to be a stellar one for her. Having successfully managed the debilitating condition that once threatened to cripple her, she qualified for the final of the 100m at the 1992 Summer Olympics and narrowly beat Jamaican Juliet Cuthbert to clinch the gold. During the 100m hurdles, she hit the final hurdle and could finish only in the fifth place.
In 1993 she beat Merlene Ottey to win the 100m World Championship title and also the 100m hurdles title. The same year she also clinched the gold in the 60m at the World Indoor Championships.
Her great form continued throughout the mid-1990s and she retained her gold medal in the 100m at the 1996 Summer Olympics. She won another Olympic medal as part of the 4 ×100 m relay team.
She won the hurdles event in World Championships again in 1999 and received a silver medal in the hurdles event in World Championships in 2001.
She took a short break to raise a family and returned to athletics. In 2007, Gail Devers—aged 40—beat 2004 Olympic champion Joanna Hayes to win the 60m hurdles event at the Millrose Games in 7.86 seconds.
Awards & Achievements
Gail Devers was elected into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2011. The following year she was elected into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.
In 2013, she received the Silver Anniversary Award that is given each year by the American National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to distinguished former college student-athletes on the 25th anniversary of the end of their college sports careers.
Personal Life & Legacy
Gail Devers’ first marriage was to Ron Roberts, a fellow athlete. Their marriage unraveled after she became ill with Graves’ disease and the couple divorced in 1991.
She is currently married to Mike Phillips and has two daughters.