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Manoliu, Lia (1932–1998)

Manoliu, Lia (1932–1998)

Rumanian track-and-field athlete . Born on April 25, 1932, in Rumania; died on January 9, 1998, in Bucharest, Rumania; graduated from college in Bucharest with a degree in electrical engineering.

Participated as a discus thrower in six Olympic Games (1952–72), winning a bronze medal in Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964) and a gold medal in Mexico City (1968); was the oldest woman in Olympic history to win a gold medal in a track-and-field event.

Born in Rumania in 1932, the future Olympic athlete Lia Manoliu was raised in a family that placed a high value on intellectual pursuits. Her father was a professor of philosophy and instilled in his daughter a lifelong love of reading. She received a superior education, acquiring fluency in English, French, German, and Russian. She later graduated from college in Bucharest with a degree in electrical engineering. Early in her career, she studied the effects of light and noise on factory workers.

From 1952 through 1972, Manoliu competed for Rumania in six Olympic Games, more than any other woman track-and-field athlete. She made it to the finals as a discus thrower in all her Olympic appearances. In 1952, she placed sixth, and in 1956 reached a ninth-place finish. In 1960, she grabbed her first bronze medal in Olympic competition, a feat she repeated in 1964. In the 1968 Olympic Games at Mexico City, Manoliu was considered by sports commentators one of three favorites in the discus competition, along with East Germany's Christine Speilberg and West Germany's Liesel Westermann . (Competing in Brazil the previous year, Westermann had become the first woman to throw the discus more than 200 feet, heaving it 201 feet, or 61.26 meters.) At the Mexico City Games, Manoliu was suffering from a sore elbow, so she decided to give her first throw everything she had, hoping it would be good enough to take the day. Her first toss went 191'2", putting her in the lead after the first round. Although she performed poorly after that, the arrival of a sudden downpour so badly degraded the playing surface and the performance of her competitors that her first throw held up to give her first place and the gold medal. At 36 years of age, Manoliu became the oldest woman in Olympic history to win a gold medal in a track-and-field event. She competed again in the 1972 Games in Munich and finished in ninth place.

In 1990, Manoliu was named president of the Rumanian Olympic Committee, becoming only the third woman worldwide to head a national Olympic committee. Britain's Princess Anne and Liechtenstein's Princess Nora had previously held such posts in their respective countries.

In Bucharest on December 31, 1997, Lia Manoliu went into a coma during surgery for a brain tumor. She never regained consciousness. On January 9, 1998, she suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

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