Texas Track Club in 1964
During the spring of 1964, Sports Illustrated covers featured the usual cadre of super (or soon to be super) stars: golfer Jack Nicklaus, lefty pitcher Sandy Koufax, the first-time national champion UCLA basketball team.
Then, on April 20, with hair blown out, makeup on, and crouched in sprint positions, Janis Rinehart (foreground), Paula Walter (middle), and Jeanne Ellison (now Jeanne Ellison Biggs, right) became the first female track athletes from the U.S. to grace the cover. Their look was no joke.
They were part of the Texas Track Club, a small group of high school-and college-aged female sprinters based in Abilene, Texas, led by a dedicated coach as obsessed with beauty as with winning races.
Both coach and athletes believed style could get people excited about the sport. “We were pioneers in women’s track,” Rinehart, now 71, says. “We were making it popular. And people liked the way we looked because we were flashy.”
Neal Barr, a fashion photographer whose portfolio included advertisements for Estee Lauder, Clinique, and Vanity Fair, took the photo.
The runners’ hair and uniforms are exactly what they wore during meets, but Barr gave them false eyelashes and turned Rinehart’s head to hide a crooked tooth. Rinehart, who was 19 at the time, admits she padded her bra for the shoot because “they didn’t have Victoria’s Secret back then.” Biggs, then 16, remembers, “They wanted us to put lip gloss on. We didn’t know what it was, just that it was really cool.”
After landing on newsstands, the issue gained the Texas Track Club plenty of attention. The Eugene Register-Guard wrote of one 1964 Oregon meet in which the young women competed: “Clusters of male spectators materialized out of nowhere. Binoculars were visible peering out of windows from the men’s dormitory across the street.”
Biggs, now 68, says their female competitors didn’t take them seriously. “Because we were all ‘frou-frou’ed’ up, and looked real nice when we would walk out there on the track, all the girls on the other teams would look at us and laugh,” she says. “They were like, ‘They look good but they can’t run.’ Then we would perform well and show them up.”
When Jerry Brown, a distance runner at Lubbock Christian College in Lubbock, Texas, saw the Sports Illustrated cover, he worked out a plan to meet Rinehart. “I saw her and knew I had to have her for the rest of my life,” says Brown. They’ve been married 49 years.