Tamara Press, a three-time Olympic champion from the Soviet Union who withdrew from international competition amid speculation and jibes about her gender, has passed away at the age of 83. The Russian track federation said Tamara died in the hospital on April 26, Monday, without giving a cause of death.
She had won gold in the shot put and silver in the discus throw at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and gold in both events four years later at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Her sister — Irina Press — won Olympic gold in the 80-metre hurdles in 1960 and the pentathlon in 1964. Irina had died in 2004.
Both sisters were subjected to comments and mockery in the United States and elsewhere about what some observers considered their masculine physiques.
“Certainly we are concerned with femininity. I’m a champion but you can see I’m a woman,” Tamara said in 1964. “The fact that a girl is a sportswoman has nothing to do with femininity.”
At the age of 29, Tamara did not compete at the 1966 European Championships, nor did her sister, and both of them retired shortly after. Gender verification was introduced for those championships. Many female athletes found that and other physical examinations intrusive and humiliating.
That was an early instance of the disputes around female athletes with differences of sex development. South African runner Caster Semenya won the 800-metre gold medal at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics but is barred from defending her title this year because of her naturally-high testosterone levels.
She has spent years in legal battles with World Athletics and has recently moved to compete in the 5000-metre race after refusing to take medication to reduce her testosterone levels.
Born in what is now Ukraine, Tamara was evacuated to Central Asia following Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. She later moved to St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad.
Later, Tamara worked as a track and field coach and wrote books. She also chaired the board of trustees of a sports museum in Moscow.