Irena Szewińska

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Irena Szewińska
Irena Szewinska 2007 AB.jpg
Irena Szewińska in 2007
Personal information
Born(1946-05-24)24 May 1946
Leningrad, Russian SSR, Soviet Union
Died29 June 2018(2018-06-29) (aged 72)
Warsaw, Poland[1]
Height1.76 m (5 ft 9 in)
Weight60 kg (132 lb)
ClubPolonia Warszawa
Copy of I. Szewińska medal and autograph in Sports Star Avenue in Dziwnów
Irena Szewińska in 1968, Uden, Netherlands
Irena Szewińska and Wojciech Buciarski, Papendal, 1975
Irena Szewińska with Konstanty Dombrowicz

Irena Szewińska (née Kirszenstein; Polish pronunciation: [iˈrɛna ʂɛˈviɲska]; 24 May 1946 – 29 June 2018) was a Polish sprinter who was one of the world's foremost athletes for nearly two decades, in multiple events.[2][3][4][5][6][7] She is the only athlete in history, male or female, to have held the world record in the 100 m, the 200 m and the 400 m.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Irena Kirszenstein was born in Leningrad to a Jewish family.[9][10][11][12] Her father came from Warsaw and mother from Kiev. They met in Samarkand where they studied at the time, and in 1947 moved to Warsaw.[13]

In 1967 she married her coach, Janusz Szewiński,[14] who also competed in hurdles at the national level and later worked as a sports photographer.[15] They have two sons, Andrzej Szewiński (born 1970), who played volleyball for the Poland men's national volleyball team and later became a senator, and Jarosław (born 1981).[15]

In 1970 Szewińska graduated from the University of Warsaw with an MSc degree in economics.[15]

On 29 June 2018, her death was announced by her husband Janusz Szewiński. She died of cancer aged 72 in Warsaw at the Military Institute of Medicine on Szaserów Street.[16][17] Irena Szewińska was buried as a Roman Catholic at the "Avenue of the Meritorious" in the Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw.[18]

In 2020 she was honoured with a World Athletics Heritage Plaque, one of the first ever awarded, during a ceremony before the Szewinska Memorial meeting in Bydgoszcz.[19]


Between 1964 and 1980 she participated in five Olympic Games, winning seven medals, three of them gold. She also broke six world records and is the only athlete (male or female) to have held a world record in the 100 m, 200 m and the 400 m events. She also won 10 medals in European Championships. Between 1965 and 1979 she gathered 26 national titles and set 38 records in the 100–400 m sprint and long jump.[14]

At her first Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, she took a Silver medal in the Long Jump and 200 metres, and ran the second leg of the Gold medal winning 4 × 100 metres relay team.

She was a double sprint winner at the World Student Games in Budapest in 1965. In the same year she set her first world record, breaking Wyomia Tyus' 11.2 s from the previous year with an 11.1 s clocking in Prague, Czechoslovakia July 9, 1965.

In 1966, at the European Athletics Championships she won Gold in the long jump, 200 metres and 4 × 100 metres relay; and took a Silver in the 100 metre sprint.

At her second Olympics in Mexico, She won a bronze in the 100 metres, but failed to qualify for the Long Jump final. She recovered from that disappointment, to win the Gold medal in the 200 metres in a new world-record time. In the sprint relay the Polish team dropped the baton on the final exchange in the semi-final and finished last.

After giving birth to her son, in 1971, she managed a bronze medal in the long jump at the European Championships in Helsinki. She would compete in the 3 events at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the 2 sprints and the long jump. She would come away with a bronze medal in the 200 metres.

In the 1974 season, she became the first woman to break the 50-second barrier for 400 metres, and she set a new world record of 22.21 s for 200 metres. At the European Championships in the Rome she won the sprint double of 100 metres and 200 metres, beating the favoured GDR sprinter Renate Stecher; and ran the anchor leg on the 4 × 100 metres relay team which took the bronze. She was ranked number 1 in the world in the 100, 200 and 400 m events in 1974.

She would win her final Olympic medal in Montreal in 1976, by winning the gold in the 400 metres in a world record time of 49.28.[14] At the inaugural World Cup of Track and Field in 1977, she would win both 200 metres and 400 metres; beating both favoured East German runners Bärbel Wöckel and Marita Koch respectively. She would be ranked number 1 in the world for 200 m and 400 m in 1976 and 1977.

In her final appearance at the European Championships at 32 year of age, she managed to win a bronze in the 400 metres and the 4 × 400 metres relay.

She was ranked number 1 in the world 7 times in the 200 metres; 4 times in the 400 metres, and 2 times in the 100 metres; as well as 3 times in the long jump. Over-all, she was ranked 15 years in the top ten at 200 metres, also 4 times number 2, twice at number 3, which just leaves 2 years outside the top 3; (from 1964 to 1977 she was ranked in the top 3 – 200 metre runners in the world) a remarkable achievement. She was ranked 12 times in the 100 metres, 8 times in the long jump and 6 times in the 400 metres (which she took up in 1974).

She obtained United Press International Athlete of the Year Award, Female 1974. She won the European Sportsperson of the Year presented by the Polish Press Agency twice in 1966 and 1974.

In 1998, Szewińska became a member of the International Olympic Committee.[14] She was the president of the Polish Athletic Association 1997–2009.

On 3 August 2005, she was elected as the third woman to the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) Council during the first session of the 45th IAAF Congress in Helsinki.

She was a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the IAAF Hall of Fame.[20][21]

International competitions[edit]

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  Poland
1964 European Junior Games Warsaw, Poland 1st 200 m 23.5
1st 4 × 100 m relay 46.6
1st Long jump 6.19 m
Olympic Games Tokyo, Japan 2nd 200 m 23.1
1st 4 × 100 m relay 43.6
2nd Long jump 6.60 m
1965 Universiade Budapest, Hungary 1st 100 m 11.3
1st 200 m 23.5
2nd 4 × 100 m relay 46.1
1966 European Championships Budapest, Hungary 2nd 100 m 11.5
1st 200 m 23.1
1st 4 × 100 m relay 44.49
1st Long jump 6.55 m
1968 Olympic Games Mexico City, Mexico 3rd 100 m 11.1
1st 200 m 22.5
14th (h) 4 × 100 m relay 53.0
16th (q) Long jump 6.19 m
1969 European Indoor Games Belgrade, Serbia 1st 50 m 6.4
2nd Medley relay 4:53.2
1st Long jump 6.38 m
1970 Universiade Turin, Italy (sf) 100 m 12.3
1971 European Indoor Championships Sofia, Bulgaria 4th 60 m 7.5
2nd Long jump 6.56 m
European Championships Helsinki, Finland 6th 100 m 11.63
3rd 200 m 23.32
5th Long jump 6.62 m
1972 European Indoor Championships Grenoble, France 6th 50 m 6.39
Olympic Games Munich, West Germany 13th (sf) 100 m 11.54
3rd 200 m 22.74
1973 European Indoor Championships Rotterdam, Netherlands 4th 60 m 7.35
1974 European Indoor Championships Gothenburg, Sweden 3rd 60 m 7.20
European Championships Rome, Italy 1st 100 m 11.13
1st 200 m 22.51
3rd 4 × 100 m relay 43.48
4th 4 × 400 m relay 3:26.4
1975 European Indoor Championships Katowice, Poland 3rd 60 m 7.26
1976 Olympic Games Montreal, Canada 1st 400 m 49.28 (WR)
1977 European Indoor Championships San Sebastián, Spain 7th (h) 60 m 7.42
World Cup Düsseldorf, West Germany 1st 200 m 22.721
1st 400 m 49.521
2nd 4 × 400 m relay 3:25.81
1978 European Championships Prague, Czechoslovakia 3rd 400 m 50.40
5th 4 × 100 m relay 43.83
3rd 4 × 400 m relay 3:26.76
1979 World Cup Montreal, Canada 3rd 400 m 51.151
4th 4 × 400 m relay 3:27.391
1980 Olympic Games Moscow, Soviet Union 16th (sf) 400 m 53.13

1Representing Europe

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Irena Szewińska passed away" (in Polish). TVN 24. 30 June 2018. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  2. ^ Joseph Siegman (2000). Jewish sports legends: the International Jewish Hall of Fame. Brassey's. pp. 176–177, 252–253. ISBN 1-57488-284-8.
  3. ^ Robert Wechsler, Bob Wechsler (2007). Day by Day in Jewish Sports History. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. pp. 36, 40, 54, 70, 145, 157, 165, 21, 221, 246, 248, 288–289, 292–293, 295. ISBN 978-0-88125-969-8.
  4. ^ Mordecai Schreiber; Alvin I. Schiff; Leon Klenicki (2003). The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia. Schreiber Pub. pp. 246, 300. ISBN 1-887563-77-6.
  5. ^ Peter S Horvitz (2007). The Big Book of Jewish Sports Heroes: An Illustrated Compendium of Sports History and the 150 Greatest Jewish Sports Stars. SP Books. p. 22. ISBN 978-1-56171-907-5.
  6. ^ Paul Taylor (2004). Jews and the Olympic Games: the clash between sport and politics : with a complete review of Jewish Olympic medallists. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 138, 192, 243. ISBN 1-903900-87-5.
  7. ^ Mariah Burton Nelson, Lissa Smith (1998). Nike is a Goddess: The History of Women in Sports. Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-87113-761-5.
  8. ^ "Multiple Olympic medallist and world record-breaker from Poland passes away". Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  9. ^ "Irena Kirszenstein-Szewinska".
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Siegman, Joseph M. (1992). The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. ISBN 9781561710287.
  12. ^ Wechsler, Bob (2008). Day by Day in Jewish Sports History. ISBN 9780881259698.
  13. ^ Rozmowa z Ireną Szewińską. 18 May 2012
  14. ^ a b c d Irena Szewińska-Kirszenstein Archived 1 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ "Polish athletics champion Irena Szewińska dies aged 72". Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  17. ^ "'First lady of Polish sport' Irena Szewinska dies at 72". Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  18. ^ "Pogrzeb Ireny Szewińskiej",,114883,23638999,pogrzeb-ireny-szewinskiej-pierwsza-dame-sportu-zegnala-rodzina.html
  19. ^ "Heritage plaque honouring the legend Irena Szewinska presented in Bydgoszcz". World Athletics. 20 August 2020.
  20. ^ Joseph M. Siegman (1992). The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. SP Books. pp. 96, 170–171. ISBN 1-56171-028-8.
  21. ^ Carolyn Starman Hessel (1999). Blessed Is the Daughter. Shengold Books. pp. 123–124. ISBN 1-887563-44-X.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
United Press International
Athlete of the Year

Succeeded by
Romania Nadia Comăneci
Preceded by
Women's Track & Field Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
Soviet Union Faina Melnik
Sporting positions
Preceded by
East Germany Renate Stecher
Women's 200m Best Year Performance
Succeeded by
East Germany Renate Stecher
Preceded by
East Germany Bärbel Wöckel
Women's 200m Best Year Performance
Succeeded by
East Germany Marita Koch