Track & Field: Preserving la Difference

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The incidents—and what to do about them—had been bothering the International Amateur Athletic Federation for years.

First there was the case of Czechoslovakia's Zdenka Koubkowa, who set a world record for the women's 800-meter run in London in 1934; later it was casually announced that thanks to a triumph of medical science, Miss Koubkowa thenceforth was properly to be addressed as Mister. Then there was Dora Ratjen, the dark-haired German lass who set a new ladies' mark for the high jump in 1938. Nineteen years later, Dora turned up as Hermann, a waiter in Bremen, who tearfully confessed that he had been forced by the Nazis to pose as a woman "for the sake of the honor and glory of Germany." Sighed Hermann: "For three years I lived the life of a girl. It was most dull."

Finally there was Sin Kim Dan, a delicate little North Korean lass who broke the women's records at both 400 meters and 800 meters two years ago; some time later, an overjoyed elderly gentleman in South Korea recognized Sin as the son he had lost in the war. At last week's European track-and-field championships in Budapest, I.A.A.F. officials for the first time ordered all lady contestants to undergo a physical examination to prove that they were, in fact, ladies.

Most of the girls took the news with aplomb. But some of the biggest stars failed to show up for one reason or another. Russia's Press sisters, Tamara and Irina, who between them own four world records (and are known to their competitors as "the Press brothers") stayed home to care for their sick mother. Russian Runners Tatiana Schelkanova and Maria Itkina were side lined with undisclosed injuries. Rumania's towering (6 ft. ½ in.) Iolanda Balas, the current world record holder in the ladies' high jump, went to Budapest—but only as a spectator, wearing an Ace bandage. She was, according to Rumanian track officials, suffering from a "calcified right tendon," and might never be able to compete again. Maria Vittoria Trio, a raven-haired Italian broad jumper, refused to submit to a physical on religious grounds. "I have been raised a Catholic," she said, "and I refuse to undress in front of unknown people."

The examination, as it turned out, was perfunctory. Lined up in single file, the 234 female athletes paraded past three female gynecologists. "They let you walk by," said one competitor afterward. "Then they asked you to turn and face them, and that was it." I.A.A.F. officials said they would have doctors on hand at all major future meets in the interest of preserving la différence.