Hartel, Lis (1921—)

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Hartel, Lis (1921—)

Danish equestrian who, though paralyzed, became a two-time Olympic silver medalist in individual dressage. Name variations: Lis Hartel-Holst; Liz Hartel. Born in Denmark on March 14, 1921; married with children.

Won the Olympic silver medal for individual dressage on Jubille at Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956).

Lis Hartel was 23, pregnant, and one of Denmark's leading dressage riders when she was stricken with polio in 1944. Though almost completely paralyzed, she was determined to continue her career and began a long, painful rehabilitation while still pregnant, first relearning how to lift her arms, then concentrating on her thigh muscles. After giving birth to a healthy daughter, Hartel persevered, regaining enough use of her legs to walk haltingly with crutches. Then she began riding again. Her initial outing with a horse left her so exhausted, however, that it took two more weeks for her to regain enough strength to try once more. In 1947, she entered the Scandinavian Riding championship, finishing second. When the 1952 Olympics were scheduled for Helsinki, Lis Hartel had no trouble making Denmark's dressage team.

The 1952 Olympic Games were momentous not only for Hartel, but for women equestrians throughout the world. Dressage (a non-jumping event in which horse and rider perform a series of gaits and maneuvers) had become part of the equestrian competition at the 1912 Stockholm Games, but for the next 40 years was open only to male commissioned military officers. As of 1952, men and women competed against each other and together.

Although Hartel remained paralyzed below the knees and had to be assisted both on and off her horse, she put in an amazing performance at the 1952 Olympics, coming in second behind gold-medal winner Henri St. Cyr of Sweden. During the emotional awards ceremony, St. Cyr stepped down from his first-place position on the platform to assist Hartel off her horse and

onto the podium for the medal presentation. Four years later, in 1956, Hartel won a second silver medal in the Helsinki Olympic competition which was held in Stockholm. St. Cyr, winning another gold, once again helped Hartel to her place of honor.