Tamara Press, Olympian Whose Feats Raised Questions, Dies at 83


Tamara Press, a dominant Soviet shot-putter and discus thrower who received three Olympic gold medals within the Nineteen Sixties however who was the main focus of hypothesis about her gender due to her physique, died on April 26. She was 83.

Her demise was introduced by the Russian Ministry of Sport, which didn’t specify the place she died or cite the trigger.

Press, who was 5-foot-11 and 225 kilos, started to draw worldwide discover in 1958, when she received the gold medal within the discus and the bronze within the shot-put on the European Athletic Championships in Stockholm.

More success adopted. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, she received a gold medal within the shot-put and a silver within the discus. Four years later, on the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, she set Olympic data whereas successful gold medals in each occasions.

But Press and her sister, Irina — who received gold medals within the 80-meter hurdles in Rome and within the pentathlon in Tokyo — acquired greater than glory from their athletic careers.

They heard merciless taunts about their dimension, a few of them from sportswriters who in contrast Tamara to a defensive sort out. She and Irina had been generally known as the “Press brothers.”

“I’m a champion, but you can see I’m a woman,” Tamara Press informed The Associated Press in 1964. “The fact that a girl is a sportswoman has nothing to do with femininity.”

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Seven a long time later, a contentious debate continues in observe and area relating to the eligibility of intersex athletes — these born with intercourse traits that don’t conform to binary descriptions of female and male.

Caster Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, has been difficult, up to now with out success, the principles of World Athletics, observe and area’s governing physique. Those guidelines require intersex athletes who establish as feminine to suppress their pure testosterone ranges under that of males earlier than with the ability to compete in ladies’s races from a quarter-mile to a mile.

World Athletics has acknowledged that the restrictions are discriminatory however nonetheless says they’re obligatory to supply a degree taking part in area throughout competitors. Critics, together with the World Medical Association and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have known as the principles pointless and humiliating.

In 1966, when Press was 29, her profession (in addition to her sister’s) got here to a near-total finish after they determined to withdraw from the European Athletics Championships in Budapest.

It isn’t clear why Press determined to withdraw. Had she taken anabolic steroids to achieve energy, endurance and bulk, she might need aroused suspicion, however she would have confronted little danger of being detected, as a result of drug testing was in its infancy in these days.

If she was intersex, Press might need feared failing a brand new take a look at instituted on the athletics championships: the so-called nude parade, which required ladies athletes to look earlier than a medical panel that might decide their eligibility.

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“There was something different about the Press sisters,” mentioned John Hoberman, a historian of doping in sports activities and the writer of “Testosterone Dreams: Rejuvenation, Aphrodisia, Doping” (2005). He added that it was “not out of the question” that each issues had been true — that the sisters had been intersex and that additionally they used steroids.

All that Soviet officers would say concerning the sisters’ absence from the meet is that they needed to keep at dwelling to care for his or her sick mom.

Tamara Natanovna Press was born on May 10, 1937, in Kharkov, Ukraine, and lived there till her household was evacuated to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, early in World War II. Her father was within the Soviet navy and died in battle in 1942. At 18, Tamara moved to Leningrad to coach underneath Viktor Aleksyev, a famend observe and area coach.

From 1959 to 1965, she set 11 world data, together with her private bests: 18.59 meters (or 60.9 ft) within the shot-put and 59.70 meters (195.9 ft) within the discus.

Credit…Ullstein Bild/ullstein bild, through Getty Images

Following the Press sisters’ determination to not compete in Budapest, Tamara Press stayed lively till 1967. At one in every of her final meets — the Moskow Spartakiad, an all-Soviet occasion that didn’t require gender testing — she received the shot-put. She retired that yr.

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In the years after she stopped competing, Press labored as an engineer and a coach. In 1996 she labored to assist re-elect Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s president. She was additionally the vice chairman of the Physical Culture and Health Fund, a charity that helps promising Russian athletes, and the writer of a number of books, together with “The Price of Victory.”

In 2012, President Vladimir Putin wished Press a happy 75th birthday, saying in an announcement, “You earned the respect of opponents and the love of millions of fans.”

Information about her survivors was not instantly out there. Her sister died in 2004.

In 1996, because the Summer Olympics had been happening in Atlanta, Press told The Christian Science Monitor that her success within the 1960 and 1964 Games “was a victory for our country,” including, “Communism — that’s another question.”

And she recalled that she was so centered on the Tokyo Olympics that sooner or later she was unaware that one in every of her opponents had dropped the shot on her thigh.

“There was so much tension that I didn’t even notice,” she mentioned. “After the competition I saw a black mark on my leg and thought, ‘What’s this?’”

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