Zhanna Pintusevich-Block was born on July 6, 1972, in Nezhin-Chernigovskaya, Ukraine.
The Ukranian record-holder in both 100-meters and 200-meters, Zhanna is married to American Mark Block, the manager of 1996 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist Donovan Bailey.
Ukraine's top female sprinter in the 1990s (and one of the greatest Jewish sprinters in history), Zhanna began running at the age of 13, and won the sprinting events at the Soviet Union Youth championships at 15. In 1991, she won the 100-meter and 200-meter, and was second in the 400-meter at the European Junior Championships. Two years later, she competed in her first World Championships, reaching the semifinals in the 100-meter (11.36). In 1994, Zhanna became one of the top sprinters in Europe. She finished second in both the 100-meter and 200-meter at the European Championships and won the 200-meter at the European Cup. At the 1995 World Championships, she finished in fifth place in the 100-meter with a time of 11.07.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Zhanna competed in both the 100-meter and 200-meter events, and had more success in the shorter race. In the 100-meter, she easily advanced to the semifinals, where she finished in fourth place in her heat (11.14) to advance to the final; in the final, Zhanna finished eighth (11.14). She also ran in the 200-meter and advanced to the quarterfinals, but finished eighth in her heat (23.68) and was eliminated from the competition.
Zhanna rose to world prominence at the 1997 World Championships, when she won the gold medal in the 200-meter (22.32), beating American Marion Jones, and capturing the silver medal in the 100-meter (10.85 - a personal best), just losing to Jones at the finish line. Zhanna actually had thought she won the race and began a victory lap until she realized that the judges awarded the gold medal to Jones based on the photo finish. Among her other top finishes, Zhanna placed second in the 200-meter at the 1998 European Championships, fourth in the 100-meter at the 1998 World Cup, and fourth in the 100-meter (10.93) at the 1999 World Championships.
At the 2000 Sydney Games, Pintusevich-Block returned to the Olympics as a stronger runner and was among the favorites to medal in the women's sprint events. She reached the finals in both races and finished fifth in the 100-meter with a time of 11.20; she missed medaling by .02 seconds. Zhanna also finished in eighth place in the 200-meter (22.66) in Sydney.
On August 6, 2001, competing in her fifth World Championships, Zhanna finally defeated Marion Jones in the final of the 100-meter to win the gold medal. To understand the magnitude of this win, consider that Jones had not lost a 100-meter final for four years, over 42 consecutive races! Zhanna's time of 10.82 (Jones ran a 10.85) was a personal best, and the fastest in the world that year. She had also defeated Jones in the semifinals.
Zhanna said following her triumph as world champion, "I cannot really believe I won the 100-meter dash. I have been running well the whole season, being really close to Marion, so I knew everything is possible. But only when I beat her in the semis did I realize I could actually do it. I felt so special in between the races...I appreciate her a lot." To many, Zhanna's victory is one of the most important events in the history of Jewish athletics.
Former Jerusalem Post editor Joe Hoffman said, "Anytime Marion Jones loses a 100-meter final, it's huge. When she gets beaten by a Jewish runner, it's time to change the textbooks...Her feat puts her right up there with Polish Jewish sprinter Irina Kirszenstein-Szewinska's seven Olympic medals from 1964-76 and Esther Roth, the first Israeli to reach an Olympic final [in Montreal in 1976]."
In 2002, Zhanna finished with the world's fastest 100-meter time (10.83) for the second consecutive year. In 2003, she won the gold medal in the 60-meter at the World Indoor Championships. As of March 8, 2004, Zhanna is ranked No. 6 in the world in the 100-meters, No. 14 in the 200-meters, and No. 42 in the overall women standings (all events).
Following her triumph at the 2001 Worlds, Zhanna offered to take Israeli citizenship and represent the Jewish State in future competitions, including the 2004 Olympics. In the mid-1990s, Zhanna's bid to make aliyah was stopped by the Ukraine, as they demanded one million dollars for her release (without their consent, she could not compete for Israel for three years).
Despite her desire to represent Israel, Pintusevich-Block ended up on the Ukrainian team again in the 2004 Athens Games. She ran in heat 6 of the women's 100-meter event and finished with a good enough time to qualify for round two (11.25). However the Ukrainian slowed down a bit in the second run (11.27) but still made the semifinals. Block ran in the second semifinal (11.23) with her best time yet, but as it was the eleventh best result overall, she was eliminated.
Sources: Jews In Sports