A Woman to Know: Lis Hartel

It was said to be one of the most emotional moments in Olympics history. — journalist Lorraine Jackson

(image via Olympics Media)

After an early career on the Danish horse show circuit, Lis had established her goal: once women were permitted to compete in Olympic dressage, she wanted to be there. And, she wanted to win.

But at age in 1944, at age 23, she contracted polio — and after a year-long battle with the disease, she remained paralyzed below the knees. Her doctors warned her she would never be able to compete again, but Lis was back on her horse within a month, with handlers to assist her during mount and dismount.

Once women athletes were welcomed into Olympic dressage in 1952, Lis was among the first class to compete at that year's Helsinki games. With the press covering her every move, on the horse and off, she talked openly about her paralysis and the extra help she needed to reach the ring. Once on the horse, however, judges could see no difference between Lis's performance and that of the other riders' — except, of course, that she could win.

She won silver that year, in an emotional awards ceremony that saw Lis pose beside the other riders on the medal stand. Her win was the first by *any* woman competing directly with men in an Olympic sport — and just as she had always wanted, her polio was but a mere mention in the next day's press.

Add to your reading list:

Read more:

*~Thank you to Alie Cline for submitting Lis as a woman to know! Alie does crazy cool things in the art museum world, and you can follow her on Twitter here.~*

** Send your recommendations for women to know! Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she could be featured in an upcoming edition. Explore the archive here. **