High Jumper Extraordinaire Passes Away: No One Dominated Women’s High Jumping Like Romania’s Iolanda Balaș

Iolanda Balas in Tokyo_Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service
From the book, XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 Asahi Shinbum

One of the most dominant female athletes in history passed away this week. Iolanda Balaș was not only the first Romanian woman to win an Olympic gold medal, she was the sole world record holder of the high jump for over thirteen years, setting a new record 12 times in that span from June 1958 to July 1961.

Balaș won her first gold medal during that period at the Rome Olympics in 1960. She had not missed a jump in the entire competition, and so had extra jumps. After winning the competition at 1.73 meters, she went after the Olympic record. Leaping 1.77, 1.81 and 1.85 meters, she broke the Olympic record three times before calling it quits.

At Tokyo in 1964, Balaș did it again, not missing a jump, and winning the gold medal at the height of 1.82 meters. Again, with bullets to spare, she took a shot at the Olympic record and broke it twice, first at 1.86 meters, and then finally at 1.90. She reached this incredible height, apparently, despite a torn tendon.

Balaș was 79.

Watch her emerge victorious in Rome in this video.