World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that former sprinter Mariya Itkina, who set nine ratified world records across a range of distances and won four European gold medals for the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday (1) at the age of 88.
Itkina won individual titles at three successive European Championships, winning the 200m in 1954 and the 400m in 1958 and 1962. She will also be remembered as the first woman sprinter to engage in high-volume weightlifting training.
Born Maria Leontievna in the Russian city of Roslavl in 1932, Itkina and her family later moved to Minsk in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was there where she honed her athletic talent, training at the Spartak Minsk and Dynamo Minsk clubs.
She reached international standard in the early 1950s and competed at her first European Championships in 1954, where she won the 200m before picking up a second gold medal as a member of the Soviet Union’s victorious 4x100m team.
In 1955, before the 400m became a standard discipline for women, Itkina clocked a world best of 53.9. Records for the discipline were officially recognised from 1957 onwards and Itkina clocked ratified world records of 54.0 and 53.6 later that year.
In 1958, at the first European Championships that included the women’s 400m, Itkina dominated the event and won by more than a second in 53.7. In the 200m final two days later – in what was her fifth race in as many days – Itkina earned the bronze medal.
She reduced her world 400m record to 53.4 in 1959, but as the women’s 400m hadn’t yet been included in the Olympic programme, she had to focus on the 200m for the 1960 season.
Having finished fourth in the 4x100m four years prior at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Itkina was keen to earn a medal in Rome in 1960. Unfortunately for her, however, she ended up with three more fourth-place finishes. She was 0.06 shy of a medal in the 100m, 0.03 short of bronze in the 200m, and 0.20 away from a podium placing in the 4x100m.
She enjoyed more major success, however, at the 1962 European Championships, where she won the 400m in a championship record of 53.4.
She made her third Olympic appearance in 1964, by which time the women’s 400m had been added to the programme, but Itkina, aged 32 at that time, wasn’t quite the dominant force she had been a few years prior and finished fifth in the Olympic final.
Itkina’s 400m win at the 1965 European Cup in 1965 was one of her final major international victories. By that stage of her career, she had amassed 34 national titles indoors and outdoors across a range of distances. She had also tied or broken nine official world records and set a further five world bests in individual and relay disciplines.
After retiring from competitive athletics, Itkina became a sports coach and headed the track and field team for Belarusian Dynamo. In 1991 she was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and in 2000 she was awarded the IOC Prize for Contribution to the Olympic Movement.