Mae Faggs: An Athlete to Know

Mae Faggs is an athlete to know. Without her, some say there'd be no Tigerbelles.

Mae Faggs: An Athlete to Know

Mae Faggs (1932-2000) was a sprinter and a foundational member of the Tennessee State University women’s track and field team, the Tigerbelles. 

She was a three-time Olympian, competing in three consecutive Games: 1948, 1952, and 1956. In the latter two Olympics, she won a gold (‘52) and a bronze (‘56) medal as the third leg in the 4x100 relay.

“Those have to be the highlights, running on those Olympic teams,” she said in 1976. “Within a 12-year span of time, making three Olympic teams is really something – especially now when I look back at it.”

She grew up in New York State, and her athletic journey began with her playing outside against boys, and beating them. She suggested to a local policeman that he put her on his team, and that is how she became a member of the New York Police Athletic League. 

When she qualified for the 1948 Games, she was 16. That was before she attended Tennessee State. 

“When my coach, Sgt. John Brennan, told me in ‘47 that I would make the ‘48 Olympic Team, I told him he was crazy,” she reflected in a 1983 interview. “At the time, I just enjoyed the participation.”

In 1952, the same year she competed in her second Olympics, she began her career at Tennessee State. 

“Without her, chances are that nothing would have been,” Jeff Hanna reflected in The Tennessean in 1976. By that he meant, without Mae Faggs, there would have been no Wilma Rudolph, no Olympic dominance from the Tigerbelles in the 1960s, none of that.

Ed Temple considered her the first Tigerbelle. He called her a leader, a stick of dynamite, the program’s first real runner, the reason the program didn’t disband. The year she arrived, there was one other athlete there (I am unsure who). 

Domestically, Faggs won three consecutive outdoor 200 meter championships and two in a row in the 100. Indoors, she broke records in the 220 yard dash and won five titles, including four straight. At the 1955 Pan American Games, she won gold in the 4x100 and silver in the 100. 

She succeeded athletically, but she also mentored younger athletes, including Rudolph. Her athletic experiences outside of the university also seemed to have influenced the way she interacted with the institution.

“Back then the women’s track budget, every cent, amounted to $300. Mae’s first year, we couldn’t pay for her way to Madison Square Garden, to defend her indoor sprint championship,” Temple said. “Then she raised a fuss with the university administration that they scraped together the money for a train ticket to New York the next year.” 

Faggs decided at the 1956 Games in Melbourne that it was, at 24, her last event. She said had gotten married and finished her degree, and she was ready to begin her new life as a teacher.

“I figured I had a good 10 years,” she said, reflecting on her athletic career. She transitioned into a new career as a health and physical education teacher.

During her athletic career, she apparently had been good enough to run the 400-meter dash. But that wasn’t an Olympic event for women until the 1964 Tokyo Games.

“The only time I thought about coming back was when there was talk of putting the quarter in the Olympics,” she said. “I was still young enough, and I wasn't too out of shape. But I knew it would mean a lot of hard work, and I wasn’t gung-ho about going through that again.” 

Watch Mae Faggs run:

USA's Women Set New 4x100m World Record For Gold - Helsinki 1952 Olympics


Mae Faggs Starr Obituary

Mae Faggs, Angel Sloss, 2021

Former TSU Star Inducted Into National Hall of Fame; Mae Faggs – Tigerbelles Mother - The Tennessean June 11, 1976 by Jeff Hanna 

Black American Women in Track & Field by Michael D. Davis 

Bayside High’s Olympic Champion - Newsday, January 12, 1983 by Dave Rosner