Helen Stephens

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Helen Herring Stephens (February 3, 1918 – January 17, 1994) was an American athlete, a double Olympic champion in 1936.

Stephens, nicknamed the 'Fulton Flash' after her birthplace Fulton, Missouri, was a strong athlete in sprint events - she never lost a race in her entire career - but also in weight events like the shot put and discus throw, and she won national titles in both categories of events.

Aged only 18, Stephens was sent out to the 1936 Summer Olympics. There, she won the 100 m final, beating reigning champion and reigning world record holder Stanisława Walasiewicz of Poland (who an autopsy discovered was not female under then-current Olympic rules).[1] Her time of 11.5 s was below the world record, but was not recognised because a strong tailwind was present at the time of the race. Next, Stephens anchored the American 4 x 100 m relay team that won the Olympic title after the leading German team dropped its baton.

Stephens is quoted by Olympic historian David Wallechinsky about her post-race experience with Hitler. "He comes in and gives me the Nazi salute. I gave him a good, old-fashioned Missouri handshake," she said. "Once more Hitler goes for the jugular vein. He gets hold of my fanny and begins to squeeze and pinch, and hug me up. And he said: You're a true Aryan type. You should be running for Germany.' So after he gave me the once over and a full massage, he asked me if I'd like to spend the weekend in Berchtesgaden." Stephens, who was a closeted lesbian, refused.[1]

Stephens retired from athletics shortly after the Games and played some professional baseball and softball. She attended William Woods University in Fulton, MO. From 1938 to 1952, she was the owner and manager of her own semi-professional basketball team.

She died in Saint Louis at age 75.

She was employed for many years in the Research Division of the U.S. Aeronautical Chart and Information Service (later, a part of the Defense Mapping Agency) in St. Louis, Mo.

Gender

At the 1936 Olympics it was suggested that Stephens (and her 100 metres rival Stella Walsh, who was later proven to be a man under current Olympic rules) were in fact male. The Olympics committee performed a physical check on Stephens and concluded that she was a woman. [2]

Bibliography

  • The Life of Helen Stephens - The Fulton Flash, by Sharon Kinney Hanson, 2004.

References

1928: Betty Robinson (USA)  • 1932: Stanisława Walasiewicz (POL)  • 1936: Helen Stephens (USA)  • 1948: Fanny Blankers-Koen (NED)  • 1952: Marjorie Jackson (AUS)  • 1956: Betty Cuthbert (AUS)  • 1960: Wilma Rudolph (USA)  • 1964: Wyomia Tyus (USA)  • 1968: Wyomia Tyus (USA)  • 1972: Renate Stecher (GDR)  • 1976: Annegret Richter (FRG)  • 1980: Lyudmila Kondratyeva (URS)  • 1984: Evelyn Ashford (USA)  • 1988: Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA)  • 1992: Gail Devers (USA)  • 1996: Gail Devers (USA)  • 2000: Vacant  • 2004: Yulia Nestsiarenka (BLR)  • 2008: Shelly-Ann Fraser (JAM)

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