Polish athletics champion Irena Szewińska dies aged 72

Irena Szewińska (24 May 1946 – 29 June 2018) Bartłomiej Zborowski

On Friday night, Irena Szewińska, the most famous athlete in Polish sport, died in Warsaw at the age of 72. During her career she won seven Olympic medals, was deputy president of the Polish Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Szewińska's death was announced by her husband, Janusz Szewiński.

"Irena died at about 23.30 in Warsaw, at the Military Institute of Medicine on Szaserów Street," Janusz Szewiński announced. "She had been fighting illness for a long time but she felt good. Not long ago she was at the Olympic Picnic."

During the picnic on June 9, Szewińska underscored in a conversation with PAP that, "the most important thing of all is children. If they taste any kind of competition, discipline or physical activity, we can be sure and glad that they're on the right road. Sport is a fantastic invention."

She pointed out that her career had started by mistake. "I ran so fast in the school trials that the teacher requested a re-run because she thought she'd made a mistake in measuring the time. I started to practise athletics in the autumn of 1960 when I was 14, in a group of students of Primary School No. 37 in Warsaw, where the trainer was the former javelinist, finalist in the Melbourne Olympics (1956) Jan Kopyto," she recalled, adding that the juniors match at Hradec Kralove, Czechoslovakia, was her first foreign trip. She was 16 at the time and two years later, in 1964, she won an Olympic gold medal in the 4x100m in Tokyo.

Since then, she visited the Japanese capital several times, including as part of the IOC supervising preparations for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. She admitted the hosts had minor problems but... "I am convinced they'll manage everything," she declared.

Irena Szewińska underwent chemotherapy at the start of 2014 after a tumour was discovered that she had already battled earlier. The treatment seemed to be successful, however the tumour returned. Szewińska did not give up, continuing to fight the disease and attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

During her career she won seven Olympic medals: three gold, two silver and two bronze. She was a Polish, European and world record holder in the 100m, 200m, and 400m, in the long jump and the relay. President Andrzej Duda wrote on Twitter "Mrs Irena Szewińska has departed - the First Lady of Polish sport and a dame of the Order of the White Eagle. Winner of 7 Olympic medals, multiple world record holder. A great loss and great sadness. Dear Irena, thank you! You will forever remain in our grateful memory!".