Even if you’re a sports fan you may never have heard of Mildred Didrikson-Zaharias. Here is why she was the greatest athlete of all time.

She was born in Texas in 1914. At 16 she led her basketball team to three national titles. In the 1932 national athletics team championships the second place team gained 22 points with its 22 athletes. In first place by a full 8 points, and setting three new world records in less than three hours, winning six events, was the team comprising Mildred alone.

She was only allowed to enter three events in the Olympics that year, so she went for one each of the three main athletic types, to show her range. Javelin: world record, gold medal; 80m hurdles: world record, gold medal; high jump: world record and first, but she was denied the gold medal for using the Western Roll technique (the Olympic authorities changed their mind later and awarded her a gold here too).

After an interval playing pro baseball and basketball (and skipping over her reported excellence at tennis, diving, swimming, bowling, lacrosse, skating and billiards) she took up golf. She became the best in the world, naturally, at one point winning 17 tournaments in a row. When she turned pro, she lost only once in seven years.

How many of you had even heard of this woman? Don’t be embarrassed if you haven’t, because Chamber’s Biographical Dictionary doesn’t rate her among the 20,000 people worth covering, and my two sets of encyclopaedias don’t mention her. Her autobiography is no longer in print, even in America. I’m inclined to think that if a man (especially a white American, as she was) had a list of achievements anything like that he’d be as famous as Muhammed Ali, say, and would have been the subject of countless biopics (there was one in 1975, starring Susan Clark and Alex Karras, which is hardly the big time).