Irina Natanovna Press
track and field
At the 1960 Rome Games, Irina and her sister Tamara Press impressed the world, becoming the first pair of sisters to win gold medals at the same Olympiad. While Tamara won the shot put, Irina made her presence felt in her first Olympic race, tying the Olympic record in the 80-meter hurdles in her preliminary heat (10.7). She then won the gold medal in the event by winning the final in 10.8 seconds. Irina also competed in the 4x100-meter relay, finishing fourth (with teammates Maria Itkina and Vera Krepkina), and was supposed to race in the 100-meter, but withdrew before her heat.
Four years later, the Press sisters returned to the Olympics and Irina competed in three events: the 80-meter hurdles, shot put, and pentathlon. Her first event was the hurdles, and after winning her preliminary heat in 10.7, she advanced to the finals by finishing third in the semifinals (10.8). That year, Irina ended up in fourth place with a time of 10.6 (the three finishers ahead of her all had a time of 10.5). Press also competed in the shot put and had the fourth-best distance in the preliminaries (51'5-3/4"). In the final, Irina improved her distance to 54'9-3/4", but finished in sixth place. Her sister, Tamara, won the competition.
Irina had one last chance at a medal in her best event, the pentathlon, which was making its Olympic debut in 1964. Press dominated the seven-event competition, winning the 80-meter hurdles and finishing in the top six in every event (the hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter, long jump, javelin throw, and 800-meter) to win the gold medal, and breaking her own world record with 5,246 points. It was the eighth time she had broken the world record in the event.
Controversy surrounds Tamara and Irina to this day. Although they were extremely successful in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they suddenly disappeared from international competition when sex tests were introduced at the 1966 European Championships. They were said to have withdrawn to care for their mother. Doubts and questions still linger regarding whether the Press sisters had been injected with male hormones by Soviet officials, or as some assert, were actually men. Either way, their records and accomplishments remain in the books. Irina won the gold medal in pentathlon at the 1958 and 1962 European Championships. Tamara and Irina set combined total of 23 world records.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. March 10, 1939
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
The Complete Book of the Olympics, by David Wallechinsky (New York: Viking, 1988)
New York Times, August 27-September 9, 1960
New York Times, October 11-October 25, 1964