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Irena Kirszenstein-Szewinska

(1946 - )

Born: 5/24/l946, in Leningrad, Soviet Union.

One of the greatest women track and field athletes of all time, Irena Kirszenstein-Szewinska won medals in four consecutive Olympic Games — a feat never accomplished before by any runner, male or female.

An 18-year old at the l964 Tokyo Olympics, Kirszenstein won a gold medal as a member of Poland's world record-setting 400-meter relay team (43.6). She also earned a silver medal in the 200-meter sprint (her mark of 23.1 set the European event record), and a silver medal in the long jump.

In the Mexico City Olympics four years later — now Kirszenstein-Szewinska — Irena won the 200-meter event, setting a new world record (22.5), breaking her own world mark set three years earlier. She also took a bronze medal in the 100-meter event.

After giving birth to a son in 1970, Kirszenstein-Szewinska won bronze medals in the 200-meter sprint at the 1971 European Championships, and the 1972 Olympics.

In 1974, she changed to the 400-meter event, and was the first woman to break 50 seconds at that distance. Two years later, at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, she set a new world record (49.29) in winning the 400-meter gold medal.

In all, Kirszenstein-Szewinska won three Olympic gold medals, plus two silvers and two bronzes; as well as five European championship gold medal (and five other medals) — a record unequaled in the history of women's track and field.

Other highlights of her extraordinary career include: Tying the 100-meter world record in 1965 (11.1); in 1974, lowering her own world record in the 200-meter (22.0); in 1977, lowering her 400-meter world mark (49.0) at the World Championships in Dusseldorf. She won 38 consecutive 200-meter races (1973-75) and 36 consecutive races at 400-meters (1973-78) — both the longest winning streaks in these events in recorded history.

Kirszenstein-Szewinska was Poland's Athlete of the Year in 1965. The same year, Tass, the official Soviet press agency, named her the Outstanding Woman Athlete In The World. She was World Sport Magazine's Sportswoman of the Year in 1966, United Press International's (UPI) Sportswoman of 1974, and the 1974 Track & Field News Woman Athlete of the Year. In 1992, she was elected to the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

Sources: International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame