Unbeatable Betty: Betty Robinson, the First Female Olympic Track & Field Gold Medalist

Age Range
Release Date
June 09, 2020
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With Joanie Stone's colorful illustrations and Allison Crotzer Kimmel's inspirational text, this biography is a reminder of how it takes more than sheer talent to be a champion; an unbeatable spirit of determination and hard work is also needed.

At only sixteen years old, Betty Robinson became the first female gold medalist in track and field in the 1928 Olympics and an overnight sensation. She was set for gold again and had her eyes on the 1932 Olympics.

Her plans changed forever when a horrible plane crash left her in a wheelchair, with one leg shorter than the other. But Betty didn't let that stop her. In less than five years, she relearned how to stand, to walk, and finally to run again and try to taste gold once more in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Perfect for Women's History units, as well as for reports on lesser-known sports heroes, Unbeatable Betty includes an author’s note narrating Betty’s later life after her win, as well as a bibliography.

Editor review

1 review
See Betty Run
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
Girls and women have run for a long time; even the author Louisa May Alcott made distance running part of her every day life. It wasn't until the 1920s, however, that woman athletes started to be able to compete on a wider scale. Young Betty Robinson was approached in 1928 by her high school track coach to run with the boys' team, since there were no teams for girls, and she was soon on the 1928 women's Olympic team! This was the first year that women were allowed to run, and Betty managed to edge out the favored runner, Fanny Rosenfeld, by .1 of a second in the 100 yard dash, making her the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal for running. She was all set to run in the 1932 Olympics as well, but was involved in a plane crash that shattered her leg. Told by the doctors to forget ever running again, she instead was only in a wheel chair for four months, although it took her two years to be able to run. Undeterred, she wanted to compete in the 1936 Olympics, but was limited by her injury. She switched to running relays, since the pin in her leg would not let her crouch down. Facing stiff competition from the German team, Betty was determined to win, and propelled her relay team to another gold medal.
Good Points
After reading Macy's Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties, I was amazed at the number of unheralded female athletes from the first half of the 1900s there were! Robinson would have been a contemporary of the great Babe Didrickson Zaharias, who also went to the 1932 Olympics but only ran hurdles.

Robinson's story of overcoming adversity is one that just begs for a longer treatment, but for now, this picture book biography will have to do. Stone does a great job at recreating the styles and fashions of the time, although I would have liked to see more photographs. Some of these can be found at https://www.bettyrobinson.org/ The after note and sources help give a bigger picture of women track athletes for whom Robinson paved the way.

Use this book, along with Poletti and Yee's The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon and Chaffee's Her Fearless Run (about Kathryn Switzer), to inspire the young runners in your life to sign up for a one miler or try a program like Girls on the Run.
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