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Stella Walsh

Runner

Born: 3 April 1911
Died: 4 December 1980 (shot to death)
Birthplace: Wierchownen, Poland
Best known as:

The female Olympic sprinter who turned out to be a man

Name at birth: Stanislawa Walasiewiczowna

 

Stella Walsh was a dominant sprinter of the 1930s and the winner of 41 American championships -- but she's best remembered for the revelation that she was not exactly a woman. Born in Poland, she emigrated to America with her family as a young girl and became a high school star in Cleveland. Competing for Poland at the 1932 Olympics, she won gold in the 100-meter dash. At the Berlin Olympics of 1936 she lost at 100 meters to her bitter rival Helen Stephens; a controversy followed when Walsh's supporters hinted that Stephens was too fast to be a woman. (German doctors examined Stephens and announced that she was in fact female.) Stella Walsh continued to compete as an amateur until 1954 and was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975. Five years later she was killed by a stray bullet at a Cleveland shopping center. An autopsy surprised everyone by showing that Walsh had male genitals and both male and female chromosomes -- a condition known as mosaicism. The discovery earned her a place in American sporting lore, along with the whimsical posthumous nickname of "Stella the Fella."

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