Outstanding Athletes of the 1970s

The decade of the seventies saw some amazing athletic accomplishments, particularly by women and African-Americans who had previously been hindered or completely barred from athletic competition in the Olympics and professional sports.

African-American Athletes

In 1974, Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record that had stood for thirty-nine years. He was one of the first black players to enter major league baseball.

Muhammad Ali first came on the scene in the 1960s as Cassius M. Clay Jr., an Olympic gold medalist and later world heavyweight champ, but was stripped of the title when convicted of draft evasion. He took a new name when he joined a Black Muslim sect, and won a Supreme Court reversal. He regained the heavyweight crown in 1974 against George Foreman.

The first black man to win a major tennis tournament, Arthur Ashe Jr. began playing the game in the segregated parks of Richmond, Virginia. He won important tennis titles, survived heart surgery, and retired from the game. Later, he developed HIV, likely acquired through blood transfusions. He became an active fundraiser prior to his death.

Women in Sports

Winner of the ladies' figure skating gold medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics, Dorothy Hamill not only gained international popularity but brought a resurgence to figure skating, her own trademark “Hamill Camel” to her spins, and a new hairstyle that was all the rage in America.

In what was dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes,” tennis star Billie Jean King defeated her male opponent Bobby Riggs in three straight sets. King was one of the most successful tennis players in the history of Wimbledon.

Other Notable Athletes

Bruce Jenner won the Olympic decathlon event at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, and was one of the first athletes to use his Olympic popularity as a springboard to wealth and celebrity off the track.

As the premier pro golfer of the 1960s and 1970s, Jack Nicklaus consistently captured major pro tournaments, including the U.S. Open, Masters, and Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) Championship.

The American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. He set world records in many races including the 200-meter butterfly event.

During the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers was the first NFL team to win four Super Bowls. Head coach Chuck Noll led the talented quarterback Terry Bradshaw, defensive end “Mean” Joe Greene, running back Franco Harris, and linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert.

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