Soviet shot-putter and discus thrower Tamara Press, who was the subject of gender confusion rumours due to her appearance, passed away on April 26. She had won three Olympic gold medals in the 1960s. The sage woman had reached the age of 83.
Press Olympian Whose Feats Raised Questions
The Russian Ministry of Sport made the announcement, but did not provide details about her death, such as where she passed away or what caused it.
Press, who was 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 225 pounds, first came to widespread attention after she won gold in the discus and bronze in the shot-put at the European Athletic Championships in Stockholm in 1958.
Further achievements became inevitable. She competed at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where she took home two medals (one for shot put and one for discus). In the Summer Olympics four years later in Tokyo, she not only won gold in both events, but also broke Olympic records in both.
Gold medals in the 80-meter hurdles in Rome and the pentathlon in Tokyo were great, but Press and her sister Irina gained much more from their athletic endeavours.
There were nasty jokes made about their size, including one in which a sports writer compared Tamara to a defensive tackle. There were rumours that she and Irina were being referred to as the “Press brothers.”
In 1964, Tamara Press told The Associated Press, “I’m a champion, but you can see I’m a lady.” A girl’s ability as an athlete has nothing to do with her femininity.
Seven decades later, the eligibility of intersex athletes — those born with sex traits that do not adhere to binary classifications of male and female — is still a hotly contested topic in track and field.
Two-time 800 metre Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been unsuccessful in her attempts to change the regulations of track and field’s regulatory body, World Athletics. According to these regulations, in order to compete in women’s races ranging from a quarter of a mile to a full mile, intersex athletes who identify as female must reduce their natural testosterone levels below those of men.
World Athletics recognises that these limitations are unfairly biassed yet defends them as necessary for fair competition. The World Medical Association and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights are just two of the groups that have spoken out against the regulations, claiming that they are humiliating and unnecessary.
Press’s 29-year-old career was nearly over in 1966, when she and her sister bowed out of the European Athletics Championships in Budapest.
The reasoning behind Press’s withdrawal is mysterious. Drug testing was in its infancy when she was in high school, so even if she had taken anabolic steroids to increase her strength, endurance, and size, it was unlikely that she would have been caught.
Press may have been afraid of competing in the athletics championships because of a new test called the nude parade, in which female competitors had to strip down to their underwear before a medical panel that would assess their eligibility if they were intersex.
Sports doping historian and author of “Testosterone Dreams: Rejuvenation, Aphrodisia, Doping” John Hoberman noted that the Press sisters stood out (2005). He continued by saying that the possibility of both the sisters’ intersex status and their steroid use was “not out of the question.”
Soviet officials would only claim that the sisters had to stay home to take care of their sick mother, rather than give any other explanation for their absence.
Until the early stages of World War II, Tamara Natanovna Press and her family resided in Kharkov, Ukraine, where she was born on May 10, 1937. They were then relocated to Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Her dad was a member of the Soviet army and he was killed in action back in 1942. At the age of eighteen, Tamara relocated to Leningrad to train with the legendary track and field coach Viktor Aleksyev.
She achieved a total of eleven world records between the years of 1959 and 1965, with her best marks being 18.59 metres (60.9 feet) in the shot-put and 59.70 metres (195.9 feet) in the discus.