Maria Leontyavna Itkina
track and field
1956, 1960, 1964
One of the world's greatest female sprinters in the 1950s and 1960s, Itkina competed in three Olympiads, but did not medal. She finished fourth in five different finals. The first time was at the 1956 Melbourne Games, when Maria finished fourth as a member of the Soviet Union's 4x100-meter relay team (45.6 -- 0.7 behind the third place U.S. team). Itkina also ran the 200-meter in Melbourne and advanced to the semifinals before being eliminated from the competition.
Four years later in Rome, Maria returned to the Olympics and competed in the 100-meter, reaching the final after winning her second-round heat (11.9), and placing second in her semifinal (11.7). Itkina ran an incredibly fast time of 11.4 in the final, but she finished in fourth place. American Wilma Rudolph broke the world record (11.0), and two other runners finished just ahead of Maria at 11.3. She just missed a medal again in the 200-meter, finishing with the same time as Dot Hyman of Great Britain (24.7), but Hyman was awarded the bronze medal. Itkina's final chance at a medal at the 1960 Games came in the 4x100-meter relay (with teammates Irina Press and Vera Krepkina. In the semifinals, the Soviet team finished in second place with a time of 45.0. In the final, Itkina fell short of a medal by only 0.2 seconds and the Soviets finished fourth in 45.2.
Itkina's final chance at an Olympic medal came at the 1964 Tokyo Games, but the Soviet 4x100-meter relay team finished in fourth place again with a time of 44.4 (the same time as the Germans, who were awarded the bronze). Itkina also ran in the individual 400-meter for the final time. She easily advanced to the final after she won her preliminary heat and finished second in the semifinals. In the final, Itkina finished in fifth place with a time of 54.6.
Maria was a dominant sprinter for the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s. In May, 1955, she set her first world record when she ran a 53.9 in the 400-meter. Over the next few years, she tied or broke her own mark six times, and eventually lowered the record to 53.0. In 1963, Itkina set another world record when she ran the third leg of Soviet 4x200-meter team (1:34.7).
One of Europe's top sprinters in the 1950s, Itkina won gold medals in the 200-meter sprint (24.3), and as a member of the Soviet 4x100-meter relay (45.8) at the 1954 European Championships. At the 1958 European Championships, Itkina won the 400-meter (53.7), and finished third in the 200-meter (24.3). She then repeated as the European champion in the 400-meter in 1962 (53.4). Itkina received the Merited Master of Sports in the Soviet Union, the highest honor given to Soviet athletes. She is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. May 3, 1932
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
New York Times, November 23-December 8, 1956
New York Times, August 27-September 9, 1960
New York Times, October 11-October 25, 1964