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  • Writer's picturePaul


One for the high jump: That’s a hell of a way to get out of bed... (Pixabay)

At the 1938 European Athletics Championships, German high jumper Dora Ratjen set a new women’s world record with a jump of 1.67m. On the way home from the contest, however, Ratjen was detained by police in Magdeburg—and promptly discovered to be a man.

It soon transpired that when she was born in 1918, a genital problem had led to “Dora” being mistakenly identified as a girl by her midwife. As she grew older, however, the oversight became ever more apparent: according to reports, when she competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, her fellow high jumpers thought it odd that Dora spoke with a noticeably deep voice, snored loudly in her sleep, shaved her face and neck as well as her legs, and always used the bathroom with the door firmly locked behind her.

Because Dora’s actions were no fault of her own—and as there had been no deliberate attempt at deception for financial gain through her athletic career—the Magdeburg police did not pursue their investigation, on the condition that she stopped competing and returned her medals.

After the entire situation came to light, Dora quit athletics, changed her name to Heinrich, and took over his parents’ bar in Hanover. He died in 2008 at the age of 89.

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