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Shotputter Zybina forges triumph out of tragedy

26 Jul 1952
Helsinki 1952, Olympic News, Athletics, USSR

There are those who are born to their sports, appearing destined for greatness from a young age. For others the road to the top is more circuitous. And then there are those, like the Soviet shotputter Galina Zybina, whose success seems completely astonishing.

Zybina’s journey towards the top of her sport had tragic beginnings. When still a child her mother and brother both died of starvation during World War II. She only just survived herself and was an emaciated and slight child. Nobody who saw her then could possibly have guessed that she would one day become a sporting colossus.

As she grew older, sport gave her a focus, and she turned out to be incredibly adept across several disciplines, going on to secure European championship medals in the shot put, discus and javelin, and claiming national titles at both the shot and javelin.

However, it was in Helsinki that her prowess as a shotputter first truly catapulted her to international prominence.

She produced the three longest throws of the competition and, with her final attempt, broke the world record. In fact, the top four athletes – including two of Zybina’s compatriots and silver medallist Marianne Werner of West Germany - all beat the previous Olympic record.

Zybina also finished fourth in the javelin in Helsinki, and went on to add a silver and bronze in the shot put at the following two editions of the Games. She went on to break the world record a further six times in a row between 1952 and 1956, and it wasn’t until 1959 that the mark was raised further, by Zybina’s compatriot Tamara Press.

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