From the last Wednesday (20), Brazilian swimming has its patron: Maria Lenk, the first Brazilian swimmer to set a world record. The tribute, to the only Brazilian woman to integrate the swimming hall of fame in Florida, was made through an act of the Legislative Power.
Maria Lenk’s first strokes were given with the help of her father, the German Lui Paul Lenk, at the age of 10, in the Tietê River (in Brazil), to strengthen her lungs after she had survived a double lung disease. Swimming for Flamengo (the multi-sport Brazilian association), Maria Lenk gave the club several titles. She played an important role in the popularization of butterfly swimming in the country, having been the first woman to compete in this modality during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.
Los Angeles Olympics
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Born in São Paulo, on January 15, 1915, Maria Lenk participated in her first Olympic Games at age of 17, at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. She was the only woman among the 82 athletes in the delegation; and the first South American to compete in an Olympic competition.
Inexperienced, She had a timid participation, placing 20th in the 100 m freestyle; 11th in the 200 m breaststroke; and having been disqualified in the 100 m backstroke.
Upon returning from the Olympics, he stood out by winning four editions of the competition Travessia de São Paulo a Nado, in a course of just over 5 kilometers between Ponte da Vila Maria and Clube Espéria.
At the age of 21, in 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, she was no longer the only woman in the Brazilian delegation. Her participation was hampered due to shoulder problems, acquired in the midst of heavy training to compensate for the lack of training during the ship trip to Germany. She ended up with a simple 13th place in the 200 m breaststroke.
“In the competition held in Nazi Germany, Maria Lenk’s pioneering spirit manifested herself again. The Brazilian innovated making the recovery of the arm in the breaststroke out of the water, as also the North American Hebert Higgins did.
Butterfly swimming was born there, which would only be officially recognized as an Olympic style by the International Swimming Federation (FINA) in 1956”, explains the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB), in the swimmer’s biography.
It was in 1939 that Maria Lenk registered her great achievements, when she broke the 400 m breaststroke world record with a time of 6m16s during a competition at Clube de Regatas Botafogo; and also breaking the world record for the 200 m breaststroke, with a time of 2m56s, a mark that surpassed the male record of the event, which was 2m59s, becoming “the first Brazilian athlete to set a world record”, reports the COB .
After some breaks in the sport, the swimmer returned to break other records, when already competing among the masters. In total, there were 40 world records in this modality.
Hall of Fame
In 1988, Maria Lenk became the first athlete from Brazil to enter the Swimming Hall of Fame , from the International Swimming Federation (FINA), when she was honored with the Top Ten of the sport’s maximum entity, being considered one of the ten best master swimmers in the world.
In 2002, she received, from the hands of Juan Antonio Samaranche, the Olympic Necklace. With that, she became the first Brazilian woman to be awarded the highest honor by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“She said goodbye swimming”
Until the end of her life she maintained the habit of swimming 1,500 meters every day, which is why she managed to have good health despite osteoporosis.
“On April 16, 2007, she left home in the morning, walked to the club and dived into the Flamengo pool, not knowing that this would be her last training session. While swimming, her aorta artery ruptured due to an aneurysm, causing massive hemorrhage in the mediastinum. In the blue silence of the pool water, Maria Lenk said goodbye, swimming”, describes the COB in an account of her death, at the age of 92.
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