Juan Carlos Zabala
Plaque name: Juan Carlos Zabala
Location: Colonia Hogar Ricardo Gutiérrez, Marcos Paz, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
Plaque awarded: 29/09/2023
Reason: Plaque Category – Legend
Juan Carlos Zabala (1911-1983), the 1932 Olympic marathon champion, at 20 years 301 days remains the youngest ever winner of an Olympic marathon. He is also the first Argentinian athlete to be recognised with the award of the World Athletics Heritage Plaque.
Zabala, who was South America’s first Olympic athletics gold medallist, was a precocious talent who rebounded from the loss of his parents to win the ultimate glory of the Olympic laurels. Yet his life largely remains a mystery.
Living at the orphanage, Colonia Hogar Ricardo Gutiérrez, Marcos Paz, in Buenos Aires Province, Zabala benefitted from the change produced by the Director in the early 1920’s, José Amatuzzo, who turned the place into a source of hope, education, and professional skills.
Sports were part of that change. A 400m track was built in 1925 and a physical education teacher was brought to work with the children on that year. That man was Austrian Alexander Stirling, a former high jump and pole vault specialist.
Stirling became Zabala’s first coach in those years and formed him as a runner, even though his athletics knowledge came from jumping events. Zabala went on to win the national titles at 3000m and 5000m in 1929 and 1930.
As well as the Olympic title, Zabala set world records at 20,000m and 30,000m during his career.