Balas, Iolanda (1936—)

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Balas, Iolanda (1936—)

Rumanian high jumper. Born in Rumania on December 12, 1936.

Won the Olympic gold medal in the high jump (Rome, 1960, Tokyo, 1964); won the European championship (1958, 1962); claimed the world high-jump record 14 times (1956–61); had 140 consecutive victories (1956–1967).

Women were not allowed to compete in the high jump at the Olympic Games until Amsterdam in 1928. The first gold in this event was awarded to Canada's Ethel Catherwood , known as Saskatoon Lily, who faced the bar smiling, then leapt 5′2½″. When the comely Catherwood was asked if she would now pursue a career in Hollywood, she answered, "I'd rather gulp poison."

Iolanda Balas' career was presaged by Phyllis Green of Great Britain, who, on July 11, 1925, became the first woman to clear 5' in the high jump. Thirty-three years later, on October 18, 1958, in Bucharest, Hungary, Balas became the first woman to clear 6'. (Records continued to topple: Sara Simeoni of Italy came in at 6′7″ in 1978; Ulrike Meyfarth at 6′7½″ in 1984. When U.S. jumper Louise Ritter took on Bulgaria's Stefka Kostadinova at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Kostadinova held the world record at 6′10½″. With the bar at 6′8″, both jumped and missed three times, causing a jump off. The 30-year-old Ritter was the first American to win the event since Mildred McDaniel in 1956.)

Catherwood, Ethel (1910–1987)

Canadian track and field champion. Name variations: Saskatoon Lily. Born on May 2, 1910; died on September 18, 1987; grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

In the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, 18-year-old Ethel Catherwood from Saskatoon, Canada, won the gold medal in the high jump. When she returned home triumphant, The New York Times proclaimed her new Olympic and World Record by enthusing, she was "the prettiest girl of all the girl athletes." The government of Saskatchewan granted Catherwood a trust fund of $3,000, with the stipulation that the money not be used for training in track and field; rather, it was to be set aside for her piano studies.

Ritter, Louise (1958—)

American high jumper. Born on February 18, 1958. Won the Olympic gold medal in the high jump at Seoul in 1988.

Kostadinova, Stefka (1965—)

Bulgarian high-jumper. Born on March 25, 1965. Won the Olympic silver medal in the high jump at Seoul in 1988.

Gusenbauer, Ilona (1947—)

Austrian high jumper. Born on September 16, 1947. Won the Olympic bronze medal in the high jump at Munich in 1972.

But no one—man or woman—dominated the sport like Iolanda Balas of Rumania. She won the first of her 16 Rumanian titles in 1951 with a novice leap of 4'10¼". After placing 5th in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, she jumped an Olympic record-setting 6'0¾" in Rome in 1960.

She would set 14 world records in the next ten and a half years. In 1961, Balas leapt 6'3¼", a record that would not be touched for a decade until Ilona Gusenbauer of Austria made her mark. In 1964, in the Tokyo Olympics, Balas took another gold while raising the Olympic record to 6'2¾". From December 1956 to June 1967, using a modified version of the scissors, Iolanda Balas won 140 consecutive events.

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Balas, Iolanda (1936—)

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