Romania's Iolanda Balas in action (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
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High jump legend Balas dies

The IAAF is deeply saddened to hear that Romania’s two-time Olympic high jump champion Iolanda Balas died on Friday (11) following gastric complications. She was 79.

Along with her two Olympic titles and 14 world records, Balas was unbeaten for almost 11 years, notching up 150 consecutive victories.

Born in Timisoara in 1936, Balas got into athletics through her caretaker Luisa Ernst, who was a former high jumper. She started competing in her early teens and soon developed her own variation of the scissor technique.

Balas set the first of her 14 world records as a 19-year-old in the summer of 1956 when she cleared 1.75m. She went on to finish fifth at the Olympic Games later in the year in Melbourne.

But in 1957 she started a winning streak of 140 competitions that was to last just over a decade.

In 1958, she cleared 1.83m and so became the first woman to clear the psychologically and historically significant barrier of six feet. That summer she took what would be the first of two European titles during her career.

She triumphed at the 1960 Olympics, going over an Olympic record of 1.85m, which was just one centimetre short of her then world record. Her nearest rivals in Rome could only clear 1.71m, giving Balas the greatest winning margin in a senior global championships high jump contest, a statistic that is unlikely to be improved upon any time soon.

In 1961, she improved her world record on four more occasions, culminating with a clearance of 1.91m in Sofia on 16 July. It remained unbeaten until 1971.

Her second Olympic gold medal came at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, where she had a flawless competition up to and including her winning height of 1.90m before she had three unsuccessful attempts at a would-be world record of 1.92m.

US magazine Track and Field News voted Balas as the best female high jumper of the 20th century in 2000 and there is little doubt that her achievements merited such an accolade.

Balas retired in 1967 and married her former coach Ian Soter. She went on to teach physical education in Bucharest and was president of the Romanian track federation from 1988 to 2005.

In 2012, she was among the first inductees into the IAAF Hall of Fame.