1964 Olympic champion Balzer dies at the age of 81

Karin Balzer
Ulrich Kohls / German Federal Archives

Karin Balzer won gold in the 80m hurdles at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo along with three European outdoor titles between 1966 and 1971

European Athletics is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of legendary German sprint hurdler Karin Balzer who passed away after a short illness at the age of 81.

Balzer won a gold medal for East Germany at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo in the 80m hurdles. After finishing fifth in the 80m hurdles in Mexico City in 1968, Balzer returned to the podium in her fourth and final Olympic appearance four years later, winning bronze in the 100m hurdles in Munich at the age of 34.

Balzer remains the only female sprint hurdler to win three European outdoor titles, winning gold in the 80m hurdles in 1966 before winning back-to-back titles in the 100m hurdles in 1969 and 1971. Balzer also amassed an imperious record indoors, winning five successive European indoor titles between 1967 and 1971, a feat not even matched by future world record-holder Yordanka Donkova from Bulgaria. 

Not only did Balzer excel in championships, she was prolific against the clock. Balzer broke no fewer than seven world records and set 37 world bests. She set the first ratified world 100m hurdles record - 13.3 in June 1969 - and subsequent records of 13.0, 12.9, 12.7 and 12.6 between 1969 and 1971. Her range was such that Balzer also set East German records in the 200m (23.4), 4x100m relay (44.6, 44.3, 43.5) and pentathlon (4619 and 4790 points).

Balzer married her coach Karl-Heinz Balzer in 1961 and they had two sons - Andreas and Falk. Andreas tragically died during the 1972 Olympic Games from injuries sustained in a car accident. Falk was born the following year and was an elite sprint hurdler in his own right, winning silver in the 110m hurdles at the 1998 European Championships. He still holds the German record in the 60m hurdles at 7.41.

Karin and Karl-Heinz coached not only Falk but also Anja Rucker, the silver medallist in the 400m at the 1999 World Championships and a multiple medallist for Germany in the 4x400m relay in the 1990s.