Iolanda Balaş (married Söter, born December 12, 1936 in Timişoara) is a Romanian former athlete and an Olympic champion in high-jump, considered one of the greatest high jumpers ever.
Iolanda Balaş got into athletics through her caretaker, former high jumper Luisa Ernst-Lupşa. She made her debut in 1949, and developed a jumping technique which was not deemed advantageous, a variation of the scissor technique but without the rotation of the torso and with the legs opening, instead of coming together towards the bar.
In 1955, before the Melbourne Olympic Games, she jumped 1.75 m setting the first of her 14 world records (plus 4 indoor). She was the favorite at the Australian Olympics, but she placed only fifth and the winner, the American Millie McDaniel, broke Balaş's world record. On 22 June 1958 in Cluj, she became the first woman to exceed 1.80 m. She won her first gold at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, reaching 1.85 m, 14 cm more than the second placed. "My first obstacle is the bar. It would be good to have a rival", she often repeated at the time. In Japan, at Tokyo Olympic Games, despite suffering from tendon and knee problems, she won the gold by jumping 1.90 m. The tendon problems forced her to abstain from the European Championships in 1966, but for years she was to be associated with other well-known abstainers, who forfeited to avoid gender checks, which had recently been introduced by the International Federation. She retired officially in 1967, losing a competition after 140 consecutive victories (unbeaten since 1958). During her career she won two European golds (1958-62), and one silver (1954), apart from the indoor gold in 1966. Her last world record, 1.91 in 1961, lasted for 10 years. After retiring she married her former coach Ian Söter, taught physical education in Bucharest, and from 1988 to 2005 was president of the Romanian Athletics Federation.
Those with gray hair still remember “La fenomenale romena”, “La grande bionda”, “The Deer”, “The Flamingo of the Carpathians”, “The Dragon Fly of Romania” and perhaps, most of all, “Please be quiet, Iolanda Balas is jumping!”… For his incredible 140 consecutive competitions won, she was included in the prestigious Guinness Book of World Records.
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