Stockholm’s own Inga Gentzel was not lacking in motivation as she lined up for the 800 metres at the city’s former Olympic stadium, Stadion, on 16 June 1928. The 20-year-old was Sweden’s first female track and field star but the Swedish Olympic Committee had made its position plain; under no circumstances would it be footing the bill for Gentzel, or any other female athlete, to travel to the Olympic Games in Amsterdam that summer. This was still very much a man’s world. The young star still hoped that if she ran an exceptional race, the high and mighty members of the committee might be forced to change their minds. Gentzel’s winning time in the 800 metres was exactly what was required to put the issue of women’s participation in the Olympics firmly on the agenda, a new world record time of 2:20.4, the first world record in athletics to be held by a Swede.
The newspaper Stockholms Dagblad launched a collection among its readers to pay for the Swedish women to travel to the Olympics. Reluctantly, the Swedish Olympic Committee backed down and Gentzel and five other women were eventually allowed to compete in the games. And lucky they did, for the Swedish 800-metre runner returned home with a fine bronze medal. On a sour note, the men of the International Olympic Committee were so distressed by witnessing exhausted female runners crossing the finish line that women would not be allowed to compete at 800 metres again until the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. Neither the female physique nor the female psyche were deemed capable of dealing with such long distances.
Inga Gentzel received attention for her Olympic bronze at regular intervals throughout her life. She always insisted that she had become an athlete by chance after convincingly winning an informal race at a fair as an 18-year-old. This inspired her to join an athletics club and only a few weeks later she was selected for a major international meeting at which she enjoyed immediate success. Inga Gentzel became a star without having trained a single day in her life, a fairytale that could never be written today.