Olympic and European champion Vira Krepkina dies at the age of 90

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European Athletics is saddened to hear of the death of Ukraine's Olympic and European champion Vira Krepkina at the age of 90 on Tuesday (25).

Krepkina, the USSR 100m champion in 1957 and 1958, competed at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympics; making the semifinals of the 100m and then finishing fourth as part of the USSR quartet in the 4x100m in both Helsinki and Melbourne.

However, having just missed the  out on the medals in her first two Olympic outings, she caused a huge surprise by taking the long jump gold at Rome 1960 before, once again, going out in the 100m semi-finals and finishing fourth in the 4x100m.

In Rome, Krepkina led after three rounds with 6.22m and clinched the gold medal with her fourth round leap of 6.37m, an Olympic record and the second best mark in the world at the time, to defeat Poland's 1956 champion Elzibieta Krzesińska who reached 6.27m in the final round for the silver medal.

Few people had expected Krepkina to strike gold in Rome not least because she had only taken up the event seriously about 18 months before.

In addition, she had a falling out with Soviet athletics officials despite winning the long jump at the 1959 USA v USSR dual international and she was controversially added to the Soviet long jump trio in Rome only after the personal intervention of the Head of the USSR State Sports Committee Yuri Romanov.

Before Rome, Krepkina had generally competed internationally in the 100m and won two European golds in the 4x100m (1954 and 1958) as well as the 100m silver medal in 1958.

She also equalled the 100m world record of 11.3 in Kyiv in 1958 and held that accolade until the American sprinter Wilma Rudolph improved the world record to 11.2 in 1961.

Krepkina Vira 80

"Other long jumpers did not take me seriously. I didn't have a perfect technique: I just ran, but I rarely stepped over the board. I caught on to it and flew. My abs were strong, thanks to my high-level gymnastic and acrobatic preparation. That's how I won that gold medal in Rome and set the Olympic record of 6.37m," Krepkina said of her Rome performance.

By a curious coincidence, Krepkina was assigned bib number 159 and her height was also 159cm. Following the Games, this number adorned the wall in her apartment in Kyiv.

Despite everything, Krepkina did not boast of her successes.

Once, during a greeting on her 80th birthday, she said: "I can realise that people are proud of me. But I still don't know why I should be proud of myself." She added that her most significant achievement in her life was not medals but the help she and her husband provided to orphans.

European Athletics would like to send its condolences and sympathies to her friends, family and the wider Ukrainian athletics community.

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