Iolanda Balas – The Flamingo Of The Carpathians
Iolanda Balas is of the greatest high jumpers ever. The Romanian athlete dominated female high jump during 1950s and 1960s, setting 14 world records. Moreover, Iolanda Balas is the first women to high-jump the psychological and historical barrier of 6 feet (1.83m). Track and Field News declared Balas the best female high-jumper of the 20th century.
Balas was born on 12 December 1936 in Timisoara, Romania. She started her athletic career at the local athletics club called “Electrica”, under Luiza Ernst-Lupsa’s supervision. She moved to Bucharest at the age of 16, in order to join the prestigious Steaua club. Steaua had one the best high-jump coaches in the world: Hansi Soter. Under Soter’s supervision, Iolanda Balas became the high-jump legend that shattered any opposition during late 1950s and 1960s by winning 140 consecutive high-jump events.
Iolanda Balas set her first national record (1.55 m) in 1953, at the age of 17. She constantly improved this record during 1953 reaching to the unbelievable bar of 1.60 m. Her first international competition was in Budapest in May 1954. Balas won the high-jump easily. The Romanian high-jumper won a silver medal in 1954 Berne European Championships.
Balas set her first world record on 14 August 1956 in Bucharest. Iolanda, aged 19, cleared 1.75 m and improved Thelma Hopkins’s record with 1 cm. The communist regime from Bucharest did not let Hansi Soter accompany Iolanda Balas in 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The Romanian athlete was considered the likely winner in female high-jump event, but without Soter’s advice Balas finished only fifth (1.67 m). Moreover, her record was broken by Mildred McDaniel (1.76 m).
Iolanda Balas was not dishearten by finishing fifth. On the plane back to Romania she draw the five Olympic circles with a coin and on top of them she wrote: Revenge. She started training harder than ever to improve her performance. Iolanda even trained on 1st of January 1957 in order to smash the world record. She cleared 1.76 m on 13 October 1957, but Feng-Jung Cheng improved the world record with another centimeter (1.77 m). Starting with 1957, Iolanda Balas completely dominated the female high-jump the the following 10 years. The Romanian athlete started her incredible winning streak of 140 consecutive competitions that ended in 1967. Meanwhile, Balas improved 13 times the world record, raising the bar with 13 centimeters from 1.78 m to an incredible 1.91 m in only 3 years. She became again the world record holder in female high-jump in 1958. Iolanda cleared 1.78 m on 7 June 1958 and further improved that record 4 times that year. Balas was the first female athlete to jump over 1.80 m in 1958. She is also the first female to clear 6 feet (1.83 m), a record that Iolanda broke on 18 October 1958. Iolanda Balas won the gold medal in 1958 Stockholm European Championships.
The Romanian high-jumper won the gold medal in 1960 Rome Olympics. She dominated the Olympic event from the very beginning. Only 4 out 15 female high-jumpers managed to clear 1.71 m in the Rome Olympic final. Iolanda’s first jump cleared 1.73 m. Without any opposition, Iolanda Balas continued her dominance and set a new Olympic record: 1.85 m. She won the gold medal with a 14 centimeter advantage from the second place, Jaroslava Jozwiakowska (1.71 m). The 14 centimeter advantage is the greatest wining margin ever in Olympics and World Championships.
Iolanda Balas set a new world record in 1961, jumping over 1.91 m bar. She reached this amazing performance in a period when other female high-jumpers were not even able to clear 1.78 m. Her 1.91 m world record stood for 10 years, until the introduction of Fosbury’s flop technique. Austriaa’s Ilona Gusenbauer crossed 1.92 m in 1971.
Balas won her second Olympic gold medal in 1964. She shattered any competition again in Tokio Olympics. She jumper 1.90 m, a 10 centimeter difference between the second place, Michel Brown of Australia. The Romanian athlete unsuccessfully tried 3 times to clear 1.92 m, missing the opportunity to set a new world record.
Iolanda’s incredible string of 140 consecutive victories ended in 1967. It was her first defeat since 1956 when the she finished fifth in the Olympics. She retired in 1967, after several knee injuries. Iolanda Balas ended an amazing career that recorded 14 world records and 4 unofficial indoor world records, 140 consecutive victories, 2 Olympic gold medals, 2 Gold medals in European Championships (1958 and 1962), 2 gold medals in Universiade and 100 stadium records (in Rio de Janeiro the record is still held by Balas).
Balas’ style was a more advanced scissors technique, which did not imply . She admitted her 1.85 m stature helped her setting so many records.
Iolanda Balas is part of the prestigious IAAF Hall of Fame. She the true definition of an athlete, going beyond any limit of her times, jumping higher than anyone else! Balas dominated female high-jump for 10 years, but she will remain for ever in the athletics history because of her amazing results, total determination and strong will. Iolanda Balas killed any competition for 10 years in female high-jump, a record that hardly can be beaten!