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Maria Lenk

From Openwaterpedia

Maria Emma Hulga Lenk (born 15 January 1915 – died 16 April 2007) was a Brazilian swimmer who is considered one of the greatest Brazilian female athletes of all time. At the age of 17, she was the first Brazilian and South-American woman to participate in the Summer Olympic Games, at the 1932 Summer Olympics, in Los Angeles. She is also the namesake of the Campeonato Brasileiro Absoluto – Troféu Maria Lenk 2015.

Swimming Career[edit]

Born in São Paulo, Maria Lenk was the first Brazilian in history to set a world record in swimming. On 8 November 1939 in Rio de Janeiro with a time of 2:56.0, she beat Jopie Waalberg's previous record of 2:56.9, for the 200m breaststroke. This record lasted almost 5 years. In the same year, she also broke the world record for the discontinued category of 400m breaststroke with a time of 6:15.8.

She also participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics where she reached the semifinals of the 200m breaststroke, becoming the first woman in the world to swim butterfly in an official competition. At the time, butterfly was used as a form of breaststroke and not yet recognized as a separate swimming stroke. Lenk's account of the event was that at the time she subscribed to a German specialized magazine that ran a story on David Armbruster's and Jack Sieg's work in developing "a new way of swimming the breaststroke". She became interested and started practicing the stroke by herself in her training sections. In 1936, she and Jack Sieg were the only two people that were prepared to use the technique in the breaststroke events at the Summer Olympics.

Lenk's goal of winning an Olympic medal was cut short when World War II caused the cancellation of the Games of 1940 and 1944, which would have corresponded to her peak in competitive swimming.

Masters Swimming Career[edit]

She retired in 1942, but never stopped swimming, focusing on masters swimming until the day of her death on 16 April 2007 when she was training in the Clube de Regatas do Flamengo's swimming pool. She suffered a sudden respiratory arrest and was taken to Copa D'Or Hospital in Copacabana where she died of cardiac arrest at the age of 92. Before her death, Maria Lenk still swam 1½ kilometres every day.

Master World Records[edit]

At the time of her death, Maria Lenk still held five masters swimming world records:

Pool Age Group Time Event Date
LC 90-94 1:25.91 50m breaststroke December 18, 2005
LC 90-94 3:12.88 100m breaststroke August 15, 2005
LC 90-94 6:57.76 200m breaststroke August 15, 2005
SC 85-89 2:29.90 100m breaststroke April 9, 2000
SC 90-94 6:37.73 200m breaststroke April 21, 2005


In 1988, she was inducted the FINA Swimming Hall of Fame and, in the same year, was awarded the "Top Ten" award given to the best masters swimmers worldwide. In 2004, she received the Adhemar Ferreira da Silva Trophy for lifetime achievement from the Brazilian Olympic Committee at the Prêmio Brasil Olímpico, an annual award given to the best athletes in each Olympic sport. On 12 February 2007, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, César Maia, officially gave her name to the new Aquatic Park venue that held swimming, diving and synchronized swimming events at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.

On 17 April 2007, one day after her death, the president of the Confederação Brasileira de Desportos Aquáticos (Brazilian Aquatic Sports Confederation), Coaracy Nunes, announced that the name of the Troféu Brasil de Natação (Brazilian Swimming Trophy) had been changed to the Maria Lenk Trophy in Lenk's honour.

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