Who is that Bald-Headed Beauty: The Mystery of the Soviet Javelin Champion

Elvira Ozolina
Elvira Ozolina

She was the best, holding the world record in the women’s javelin throw from May 1960 to October 1964. Elvira Ozolina, the native Latvian who was representing the Soviet Union at the 1964 Olympics, was primed to repeat as Olympic champion in Tokyo, after taking gold in Rome in 1960.

However, you have to play the game as they say. And when the competition ensued, Romanian Mihaela Penes threw nearly 7 meters better than Ozolina to win the gold medal. Ozolina threw poorly, and the Rome Champion landed in fifth place.

Then the rumors began to swirl. The US wire services filled newspapers across the country with this story from AP.

Various headlines from AP news wire stories on Ozolina
Various headlines from AP news wire stories on Ozolina

“There’s a bald-headed beauty who speaks Russian roaming the Olympic Village today. And a new Olympic mystery is swirling around her. Less than 24 hours ago the girl had beautiful, shoulder-length chestnut hair. Then she walked into a Village beauty parlor and ordered it shaved off. She walked out 20 minutes later, tears streaming down her face and her head bald as a billiard ball.”

The press suspected that it was Ozolina, but the Russian officials and press so strongly denied the report that the mystery remained a mystery. In fact, Ozolina appeared in a press conference a few days later. The AP report, without directly saying so, hints that Ozolina was now wearing a wig, but Ozolina waved the idea off. When asked why she cut her hair off, she said “Cut my hair off? Take a good look at my head.”

So did she, or didn’t she? As they say, only her hairdresser knows for sure.

Hair Salon in Olympic Village, from the book
Hair Salon in Olympic Village, from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency”