Stanis?awa Walasiewicz

Stanis?awa Walasiewicz (also known as Stanis?awa Walasiewiczówna and Stella Walsh) (April 3, 1911 – December 4, 1980) was a Polish born Polish and American athlete and an Olympic champion.

Walasiewicz was born April 3, 1911 in Wierzchownia near Rypin, Congress Poland. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was only three months old. Her father, Julian Walasiewicz, settled in Cleveland where he found a job as a steel mill worker. Her family called her Stasia, a common Polish diminutive of her Christian name, which later gave birth to the American version of her name Stella.

She started her athletic career in a public school in Cleveland. Fast and agile, in 1927 she easily won the competition for a place in the American Olympic team started by the Cleveland Press newspaper. However, Walasiewicz was not an American citizen and could not obtain citizenship under the age of 21. However, after the success of Halina Konopacka, a Polish athlete who won gold in the discus throw at the 1928 Summer Olympics inspired Walasiewicz to join the local branch of Sokó?, a Polish sports and patriotic organization active also among the Polish diaspora. During the Pan-Slavic Slet of Sokó? movement in Pozna? she scored her first major international victories. She won 5 gold medals: in running for 60, 100, 200 and 400 metres, as well as long jump. She was asked to stay in Poland and join the Polish national athletic team. She also continued to run in various American challenges and games.

In the late 1920s she was already a well-known athlete. As an amateur she was also working as a clerk in Cleveland. While still not a US citizen, Walasiewicz did participate in, and won, numerous American national championships, usually under the name of Stella Walsh. For her part in inter-state athletic championships the city of Cleveland awarded her a car. In 1930 she was chosen the most popular Polish athlete by the readers of the Przegl?d Sportowy (Sports Review) daily.

In the 1932 Summer Olympics she represented Poland. In both the and the semi-finals of the 100 m, Walasiewicz equalled the current world record of 11.9 seconds, a feat she repeated in the final, which she won. The same day, she also finished 6th out of 9 in the discus throw event. Upon her return to Poland she almost instantly became one of the best-known personalities. She was welcomed by gigantic crowds in the port of Gdynia and a few days later she was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit for her achievements. She was also again chosen the most popular Polish person related to sports - and held that title for three years.

She started the following season of 1933 with an injury, which made her abandon the plans of running in the Polish Skating Championships. However, she quickly recovered and returned to active career with a failed run in Prague. In the spring however she appeared at the Championships of Warsaw, where she seized 9 gold medals, including one for 80 metres hurdling, one for 4x200 relay, and one for long jump. On September 17 in Pozna? she beat two world records in one day: 7.4 seconds for 60 m and 11.8 seconds for 100. A week later in Lwów she beat her own lifetime record of 7.3 for 60 m. Her Olympic success also won her a scholarship at the Warsaw Institute of Physical Education, where she met with some of the most notable Polish athletes of the epoch, including Jadwiga Wajs, Feliksa Schabi?ska, Maria Kwa?niewska and Janusz Kusoci?ski.

In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, she attempted to defend her Olympic title, but, as the World Record holder by now, she was beaten to the title by Helen Stephens of the USA. She came second in 11.7 seconds. Ironically in hindsight, Stephens was accused of being male and forced to submit to a genital inspection to prove otherwise. After the Olympic Games Walasiewicz declared her plans to retire from active sports career, but changed her mind and instead moved to the US, where she resumed her amateur career there. During and after the World War II she continued to appear at various championships, but the days of her spectacular successes were mostly over. After the war Poland had been overrun by the Soviet Union and Walasiewicz decided to stay in the United States. In 1947 she finally accepted American citizenship and married boxer Neil Olson. Although the marriage did not last long, she continued to use the name of Stella Walsh Olson for the rest of her life. She won her last US title at age forty, in 1951. She was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975.

After her retirement she continued to be active in a variety of Polish sport associations in the USA, where she organized championships and helped young athletes. She also funded a variety of awards for Polish sports people living in America.

Walsh was a bystander in an armed robbery in Cleveland, Ohio on December 4, 1980, and was killed, aged 69. An autopsy showed that she possessed male genitalia, although some sources suggest she also displayed some female characteristics. Detailed investigation has also revealed that she had both XX and XY pair of chromosomes.

A controversy on her gender remains unsolved, as the situation is further complicated by the fact that many earlier documents, including her birth record, state she was a woman. There was also some controversy whether all her records and achievements should be erased, but in the end neither the International Olympic Committee nor the IAAF commented on the matter .

The case of Stanis?awa Walasiewicz is often regarded as one of the reasons why the IOC has gradually dropped the gender determination tests. In the end, such a requirement was dropped prior to the 2000 Summer Olympics, as it was found that the genetic gender is not necessarily equal to social or biological gender.

In Cleveland there is a city-owned recreational center named after Stella Walsh, on Broadway Avenue. It is attached to Cleveland South High School.


Throughout her life, Walasiewicz set over 100 national and world records, including 51 Polish records, 18 world records, and 8 European records. Her European record for 100 yards remains unbeaten as of 2006, although races measured in yards are rare today.

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