When Ulrike Meyfarth delighted her home fans with victory in the women’s high jump in the Olympic Games of 1972 in Munich, she entered the record books as the youngest ever winner of a track and field gold.
Just three months after her 16th birthday, the leggy jumper from Frankfurt stunned her more experienced counterparts by improving her personal best by almost two inches and snatching the gold medal on countback.
It was a remarkable entry onto the international stage, not least because she had qualified as the third of Germany’s entries in the field.
A combination of poor form, injury and the boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow restricted her appearances on the grand stages of track and field, but a silver behind Tamara Bykova at the 1983 world championships announced her return to form.
From 1982 to the time of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Meyfarth and Bykova regularly exchanged the world record with the women’s landmark height surging past the two-metre mark.
With Soviet Bykova absent from the Games, it was left to a battle of the ‘veterans’ between Meyfarth and the elegant Italian jumper Sara Simeoni.
Simeoni sent the crowd at the Memorial Coliseum into raptures by becoming the first women to clear two metres in an Olympic event, only for Meyfarth to follow suit immediately after.
The failure of home favourite Joni Hartley to go clear at two metres did little to calm the crowd’s excitement and it was left to a shootout between the two Europeans, and it was Simeoni who blinked first.
Meyfarth completed a superb clearance, more convincing than her previous successful effort which had rattled the bar, at 2.02m to extend the Olympic record and make sure of the gold.
Simeoni was unable to follow suit and Meyfarth secured a quite remarkable record; the youngest ever track and field gold medallist at Munich had become the oldest ever female high jump champion.
She emulated the feat of Polish runner Irena Szewinska in winning golds 12 years apart, while just four years later her oldest high jump champion record was beaten by American Louise Ritter in Seoul.