European Athletics is saddened to learn of the passing of Irena Szewinska at the age of 72.
Szewinska remains one of the greatest athletes in history with seven Olympic medals to her name from her five Olympic appearances. On her Olympic debut in 1964, Szewinska - who was competing under her maiden name of Kirszenstein - ran the second leg of Poland’s gold medal-winning team in the 4x100m after winning silver medals in the 200m and long jump.
Szewinska went on to win the Olympic 200m title in 1968 and the Olympic 400m title in 1976, setting world records to win both titles. She retired after her fifth Olympic appearance in Moscow 1980 at the age of 34.
Szewinska accrued 10 medals at the European Championships across her four appearances, a record at the championships. On her debut at the 1966 European Championships, Szewinska - who had only just turned 20 - won titles in the 200m, 4x100m and long jump and a silver medal in the 100m. She was to achieve the sprint double eight years later in Rome, defeating reigning Olympic champion Renate Stecher in both the 100m and 200m.
Szewinska’s greatness is further exemplified by the fact she remains the only athlete - male or female - to have held world records in the 100m (11.20), 200m (22.58, 22.21) and 400m (49.75, 49.29) and her lifetime best in the 400m set at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal remains intact as the Polish record.
Fourteen years after making her international debut, Szewinska took one of her most famous victories the following season at the inaugural World Cup in Dusseldorf in 1977 when she hauled in Marita Koch, eleven years her junior, down the home straight in the 400m, 49.52 to 49.76.
After her competitive career, Szewinska held a number of influential roles within the sport both domestically and internationally. She was president of the PZLA, vice-president of the Polish Olympic Committee, a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1998 and was elected onto the IAAF Council in 2005.
She also held managerial roles in the Society of Polish Olympians and the Polish Women's Sports Association. For her outstanding achievements, Szewinska also received a number of state decorations, including the Order of the White Eagle.
Figures across the sporting world have paid tribute to Szewinska, including reigning Olympic hammer champion and world record-holder Anita Wlodarczyk.
“We will miss you. In Rio, my dream came true when I had the pleasure to receive my medal from you. During the ceremony, I cried tears of joy and now I am crying tears after the loss of such a great personality,” she said on Twitter.
Pani Ireno na zawsze w mojej pamięci Będzie Nam Pani brakowało.W Rio spełniło się moje marzenie,kiedy miałam przyjemność otrzymaćTak jak wtedy,podczas ceremonii łzy ze wzruszenia leciały strumieniami ,tak teraz łzy lecą po stracie tak wspaniałej osobowości R.I.P I.Szewinska pic.twitter.com/SZh1JYdrq7
— anita wlodarczyk (@AnitaWlodarczyk) June 29, 2018