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How Olympic Sprinter Stella Walsh Nearly Lost Her Medals Because of Her Autopsy

Stella Walsh grew up in the early 20th century caught between two worlds: that of her Polish birthplace and her American upbringing. She was a talented athlete, but could not compete for the USA team in the Olympics because she wasn’t yet a citizen. She won medals in track for Poland in 1932 and 1936, and kept up her dream of competing as an American. That never happened. But the real shocker came when Walsh was murdered.

In December 1980, Walsh was in a Cleveland parking lot when she was approached by two men with a gun. When they tried to grab her purse, the 69-year-old Walsh fought back. The gun fired, hitting her in the chest. When local TV stations reported Walsh’s death, they also reported information that the coroner’s office had leaked about her preliminary autopsy report: Stella Walsh—who was considered one of the greatest female athletes of all time—had male genitalia.

One of Cleveland’s local TV stations, WKYC Channel 3, sued the county coroner’s office to compel them to release Walsh’s official autopsy report. Her family and supporters protested, not wanting the salacious results to be made public, but within days, national newspapers like The Washington Post were speculating about her gender identity with headlines like "Heroine or Hero?". A judge sided with Channel 3, and the coroner, Samuel Gerber, released Walsh’s autopsy report on January 23, 1981.

Read the story of Stella Walsh’s life, her athletic career, and the fallout from her death at mental_floss.


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