October 28, 1956 -
Linda Cornelius’ father, Howard, would finish a full day’s work at the General Motors plant in Arlington before the two of them would then go to a four-lane cinder track at Paschal High School. Although he had no knowledge of track and no specialized training equipment, Howard’s devotion and dedication to his daughter formed the foundation of her competitive spirit.
When mentally and physically exhausted, Cornelius remembered her father’s sacrifice. By her junior year, Pascal High School had created a girl’s track team and Cornelius participated in five events (the maximum number) per meet. During her senior year, 1975, she set a national high school record in the long jump at the state meet.
No Southwest Conference school offered full athletic scholarships for women. So without money to attend college, Cornelius accepted a track scholarship to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). Acknowledging that she wanted to try and make the Olympic team, her coach suggested that she become a pentathlete. Accepting the challenge, she learned to hurdle and throw the shot put while improving in the high jump, long jump, and the 800-meter run.
Still wanting to attend college in Texas, Cornelius transferred during her sophomore year to Texas A&M University as the first female to receive a full athletic scholarship. She also became the first female student-athlete on full scholarship in the Southwest Conference. Even so, the university offered few resources. Cornelius’ drive, determination, and the training regime established by her father years before continually fueled her Olympic pursuit.
With the Olympic trials on the horizon, the two-time All-American remained in College Station after her 1979 graduation and the Aggie Club provided financial support for her continued training. During the June 1980 Olympic Trials, Cornelius finished third overall in the pentathlon, securing a spot on the Olympic roster. Yet her 800-meter time of 2:09.30 broke the world pentathlon record.
Linda Cornelius’s Olympic dream crashed with the U.S. boycott of the Moscow games. At age twenty-three she had passed her competitive prime. Cornelius tried to regain her form and continue training, but she believed that four more years seemed an eternity. “For me it was the end of my athletic career, and I moved on with my life.”