The IAAF is deeply saddened to hear that 1956 Olympic long jump champion and former world record-holder Elzbieta Krzesinska died on Tuesday (29) at the age of 81 after a long illness.
Born Elzbieta Dunska in November 1934, Krzesinska and her family were forced to move to Elblag in 1944 after their house was burned down during the Warsaw Uprising. It was while she was at school in Elblag that her PE teachers discovered Krzesinska’s long jumping talent.
In 1952, at the age of 18, she made her Olympic debut at the Helsinki Games, but it was not without controversy.
After landing her best jump, she was in the silver medal position. But, prompted by a protest from the Hungarian team, the judges deemed that Krzesinska’s long plaited hair had left a mark in the sand approximately half a metre behind where the rest of her body landed. They duly amended her mark and Krzesinska finished the competition in 12th place.
She took bronze at the European Championships in 1954 and two years later she set a world record of 6.35m. Coming as it did just three months before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, she was the overwhelming favourite for the title.
Competing under her new married name, having married her coach Andrew Krzesinski, a pole vaulter, Krzesinska dominated the competition in Melbourne. She equalled her own world record in the second round to take the title, winning Poland’s only gold medal from those Games and her country's first Olympic gold medal since World War II.
In 1958 she gave birth to her daughter, Elzbieta, but she was back in action the following year and won the World University Games title.
Disaster struck two months before her Olympic title defence in 1960. She suffered a severe bruising of the heel bone and had to spend weeks on crutches. Just two weeks before the Olympics, she made the risky decision to undergo surgery so that she would have a chance to compete in Rome.
She qualified for the final with her first jump, but then accidentally left her spikes at the track. By the time she returned to the stadium for the final, there was no sign of her spikes. One of her male team-mates lent her some spikes, which were two sizes too big, but she went on to take the silver medal in the final.
Krzesinska’s last major medal came at the 1962 European Championships, where she took the silver medal. She retired in 1965 and went on to work as a dentist.
She and her husband moved to the UK in 1981 and then to Eugene in the USA, where they stayed until 2003 before returning to Warsaw.
In 1994 she released her memoirs in a book entitled ‘The Sweeping Plait’.