Stanisława Walasiewicz

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Stanisława Walasiewicz
Stanisława Walasiewicz 1938.jpg
Stanisława Walasiewicz in 1938
Personal information
Born 3 April 1911
Wierzchownia, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Died 4 December 1980 (aged 69)
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Height 1.74 m (5 ft 9 in)
Weight 60 kg (130 lb)
Sport Athletics
Event(s) 100 m, 200 m, long jump
Club Warszawianka, Warszawa
Legia Warszawa
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 100 yd – 10.5 (1944)
100 m – 11.6 (1937)
200 m – 23.6 (1935)
long jump – 6.12 m (1939)[1]

Stanisława Walasiewicz, also known as Stefania Walasiewicz,[2] Stanisława Walasiewiczówna (see Polish name) and Stella Walsh (3 April 1911 – 4 December 1980) was a Polish track and field athlete, who became a women's Olympic champion in the 100 metres. It was later learned that Walasiewicz had male genitalia and was intersex.[3]


Walasiewicz was born on 3 April 1911[4] in Wierzchownia (now in Brodnica County), Congress Poland. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was only three months old. Her parents, Julian and Veronika Walasiewicz, settled in Cleveland, where her father found a job as a steel mill worker.[5] 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.[5]

Athletics career[edit]

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.[5] 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 Sokół, a Polish sports and patriotic organization active among the Polish diaspora. During the Pan-Slavic meeting of the Sokół movement in Poznań, she scored her first major international victories: she won five gold medals: in running for 60, 100, 200 and 400 metres, as well as for the long jump.[5] 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 U.S. citizen, Walasiewicz did participate in, and won, 28 American national championships, usually under the name of Stella Walsh. She won the 100 yard dash in 1930, the replacement 100 meters in 1943, 44 and 48,[6] the 220 yard dash in 1930-1 the replacement 200 meters in 1939–40 and 1942-8,[7] the discus throw in 1941-2,[8] and the long jump in 1930, 1938–46, 1948 and 1951.[9] For her part in interstate athletic championships, the city of Cleveland awarded her a car.[5] She was finally offered American citizenship, probably under the insistence of the Amateur Athletic Union, whose members envisioned Walasiewicz—or Stella Walsh, as she was referred to in the USA—as a future gold medalist at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. However, just two days prior to her Oath of Citizenship, she changed her mind and instead adopted Polish citizenship, offered to her by the Polish consulate in New York.[5][10] In 1930, she was chosen the most popular Polish athlete by readers of the Przegląd Sportowy (Sports Review) daily.[11]

In the 1932 Summer Olympics, she represented Poland. In both the heats and the semi-finals of the 100 m, Walasiewicz equaled 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.[12] Upon her return to Poland, she almost instantly became a well-known personality. 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 in sports,[11] and held that title for three years.

She started the following season of 1933 with an injury, which made her abandon her plans to run in the Polish Skating Championships. However, she quickly recovered and returned to an active career, with a failed run in Prague. In the spring, she appeared at the Championships of Warsaw, where she seized 9 gold medals, including one for 80 metres hurdling, one for 4 × 200 relay, and one for long jump.[13] On 17 September, in Poznań, she beat two world records in one day: 7.4 seconds for 60 m and 11.8 seconds for 100 m. A week later, in Lwów, she beat her own lifetime record of 7.3 for 60 m.[13] 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 Schabińska, Maria Kwaśniewska, and Janusz Kusociński.

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 U.S. She came in second, in 11.7 seconds. Ironically in hindsight, Stephens was accused of being male and was forced to submit to a genital inspection to prove otherwise. After the Olympic Games, Walasiewicz declared her plans to retire from an active sports career, but changed her mind[5] and instead moved to the U.S., where she resumed her amateur career. During and after 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 Stella Walsh Olson for the rest of her life. She won her last U.S. title at age forty, in 1951,[9] and she was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975.

Post-athletics career[edit]

After her retirement, she continued to be active in a variety of Polish sport associations in the U.S., where she organized championships and helped young athletes. She also funded a variety of awards for Polish sportspeople living in America. In 1974, Stella Walsh was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. Stella Walsh was a contestant on 16 June 1954 episode of the radio quiz program "You Bet Your Life", hosted by Groucho Marx.[14]

Death and controversy[edit]

Walsh was killed during an armed robbery in Cleveland, Ohio, on 4 December 1980. An autopsy showed that she possessed male[2][15] genitalia, although some sources suggest she also displayed some female characteristics.[16] Detailed investigation has also revealed that she had both 45X0 and 46XY chromosomes.[5]

The controversy of her biological sex remains unresolved, and the situation is further complicated by the fact that many earlier documents, including her birth record, state that she was female.[5] There was also some controversy as to whether all her records and achievements should be erased.[5][17]


The case of Stanisława Walasiewicz is often regarded as one of the reasons why the IOC has gradually dropped gender determination tests.[5] The International Association of Athletics Federations ordered gender determination testing on South African Caster Semenya in August 2009, and in July 2010 a decision in favour of Semenya was declared, allowing her to compete as a woman.

In Cleveland, on Broadway Avenue, there is a city-owned recreational center named after Stella Walsh. It is attached to Cleveland South High School. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.[18]


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stanisława Walasiewicz.
  2. ^ a b "Stefania Walasiewicz". Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Who was Stella Walsh?: The story of the intersex Olympian, Matt Tullis in SB Nation, 27 June 2013.
  4. ^ Some sources also cite 7 and 11 April
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Klaudia Snochowska-Gonzales. "Walasiewicz była kobietą (Walasiewicz Was a Woman)". Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish) 190 (14 August 2004): 8. Retrieved 31 May 2006. 
  6. ^ USA Track & Field – USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions. Retrieved on 13 July 2015.
  7. ^ USA Track & Field – USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions. Retrieved on 13 July 2015.
  8. ^ USA Track & Field – USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions. Retrieved on 13 July 2015.
  9. ^ a b USA Track & Field – USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions. Retrieved on 13 July 2015.
  10. ^ At the time of Walasiewicz's birth, Poland was under partition, and she was officially a citizen of the Russian Empire, even though the state had ceased to exist as a result of the Russian Civil War.
  11. ^ a b Plebiscyt PS. Retrieved on 13 July 2015.
  12. ^ Polish Olympic Committee (corporate author) (2005). "Los Angales – 1932.08.02 (sic!)". Polski Portal Olimpijski PKOl. Polish Olympic Committee. Archived from the original on 3 February 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2006. 
  13. ^ a b Krzysztof Bazylow (25 October 2004). "1933 – STANISŁAWA WALASIEWICZ". (in Polish). Retrieved 1 June 2006. 
  14. ^ You Bet Your Life 35 Eps : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive. Retrieved on 13 July 2015.
  15. ^ "Report Says Stella Walsh; Had Male Sex Organs". The New York Times. Associated Press (corporate author) (23 January 1981). 23 January 1981. Retrieved 31 May 2006. 
  16. ^ Piotr Słonimski. "Co ma wirus do płci (On Viruses and Gender)". Rzeczpospolita (in Polish) 266 (15 November 2002). Retrieved 1 June 2006. 
  17. ^ Cecil Smith; various authors (1998). "History of Canadian Track and Field and Road Running". In Charles J. Humber. Canada Heirloom Series. Mississauga: Heirloom Publishing. pp. 344–349. ISBN. Retrieved 1 June 2006. 
  18. ^ Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007) Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories Cleveland, Ohio: Gray & Company, Publishers, ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6

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