Polish Olympic Trivia & Stella the Fella

Poland first appeared at the Olympics in 1924, and is one of 12 nations to have competed at every edition of the Olympic Winter Games. The current list of sports and athletes for 2014 has not yet been posted on-line.

(In honor of the Winter Olympics that open this week, and Henry’s lifestyle as an athlete, I’m taking a break from concentration camps to mull on famous Polish athletes.)

Wojciech Fortuna won his country’s first winter Olympic gold medal, in the large hill individual ski jumping event at the 1972 Sapporo Games.

The third most famous Pole after Pope John Paul II/Karol Wojtyla and Lech Walesea is Adam Małysz, (born 1977), according to Polska, the official promotional web site for the Republic of Poland. As one of the most successful ski jumpers in the history of the sport, he was favored to win gold in the Salt Lake City Olympics but was upset.  Since 2011 he is a rally racing driver.
Definitely up there on the quirky scale is the story of ‘Stella the Fella’: 
Stella Walsh, born Stanislawa Walasiewicz in Poland, 1911 moved with her parents to the United States when she was three months old and settled in Cleveland Ohio, in an area now called Slavic Village. She lived there 68 of her 69 years. She retained her Polish citizenship until 1947 and competed for Poland in multiple Olympics. She became an outstanding track athlete, winning the women’s 100-meter race at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and becoming the first woman to break the 12-second barrier. In 1936 she was so fast, and somewhat masculine in appearance she was accused of being male and was forced to submit to a genital inspection to prove otherwise. She passed the test and continued to compete as a woman. 
She reportedly won more than 5,000 races, earned hundreds of trophies, officially set 20 world records in track, was the first woman to run the 100-yard dash in less than 11 seconds and one of the first to run 100 meters in less than 12. Her world record in the 220-yard dash went unbroken for 15 years.
She became a local hero to the Polish community in Cleveland though for as long as anyone could remember she had been teased for her almost masculine strength and striking lack of femininity. In school she was the best baseball player on the boy’s team, a time before girls’ baseball. Behind her back they called her ‘Bull Montana’.   
She was briefly married, thus taking the last name of Walsh. In Polish her nickname was Stasia, which she then  took the American version – Stella. 
Sadly, in 1980 she was the victim of a robbery in which she was shot and killed. An autopsy revealed that she was neither man or woman – rather a hermaphrodite with no uterus and a non-functioning, under-developed penis. The press seized on that fact ‘that she was a man’ and nicknamed her ‘Stella the Fella’ at the outrage of the Polish community who adored her. Today her name is often referred to when the issue of gender testing in sports comes up. Though her name is splashed around the Internet with two-sentence references, once I heard the story I find it both admirable for her sports prowess, and sad for what her life involved as being secretly, and truly different. 

Source:  Matt Tullis authored a lengthy profile in June 2013 for Sports Blog Nation, and really explored her background.  It’s an interesting read.

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Tags: Just for Fun