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1930s & Earlier / Stella Walsh Gender Controversy
Stella Walsh was one of the first female Olympic heroes--but she could never shake the accusations that she was really a man. The masculine-looking Walsh was born in Poland in 1911 and came to the United States before her first birthday. Naturally gifted at sports, she won track and field contests sponsored by a Cleveland newspaper that were supposed to lead to a place on the 1928 American Olympic team. However, the immigration laws of the era said Walsh could not become an American citizen until the age of 21. She toured her homeland in the early 1930s and became hugely popular. She competed for Poland at the 1932 summer Olympics in Los Angeles and won gold in the women's 100 metres. At the 1936 Olympics she finished second to Helen Stephens, who, ironically, had to undergo a medical examination to prove she was a female. In November 1980, television station WKYC was heavily criticized for airing a story that questioned Walsh's gender. A month later the 69-year-old Walsh was murdered in a botched armed robbery at a Cleveland mall. Through a court order, WKYC obtained the coroner's report to vindicate their earlier claims. It said Walsh had male sex organs, no female sex organs, and both XX and XY pairs of chromosomes.