Helen Stephens
Stephens in 1936
Personal information
Full nameHelen Herring Stephens[1]
NicknameThe Fulton Flash[1]
BornFebruary 3, 1918[1]
Fulton, Missouri, U.S.[1]
DiedJanuary 17, 1994(1994-01-17) (aged 75)[1]
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.[1]
Height5 ft 11+12 in (182 cm)[1]
Weight154 lb (70 kg)[1]
Event(s)100 m, 200 m, shot put, discus throw
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)100 yd – 10.4 (1935)
100 m – 11.5 (1936)
200 m – 24.1 (1936)
shot put −13.70 m (1937)
discus – 39.50 m (1936)
Medal record
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1936 Berlin 100 m
Gold medal – first place 1936 Berlin 4×100 m relay

Helen Herring Stephens (February 3, 1918 – January 17, 1994) was an American athlete and a double Olympic champion in 1936.


Stephens, nicknamed the "Fulton Flash" after her birthplace, Fulton, Missouri, was a strong athlete in sprint events—she never lost a race in her entire career—and also in weight events such as the shot put and discus throw. She won national titles in both categories.

When she was 18, Stephens participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics. There she won the 100 m final, beating reigning champion and world record holder, Stanisława Walasiewicz (aka Stella Walsh) of Poland.[2][3] Stephen's time of 11.5 s was below the world record, but was not recognized because a strong tailwind was blowing at the time of the race. Next, Stephens anchored the American 4 × 100 m relay team that won the Olympic title after the leading German team dropped its baton.

Stephens is quoted by Olympic historian, David Wallechinsky, about her post-race experience with Adolf Hitler.[3] "He comes in and gives me the Nazi salute. I gave him a good, old-fashioned Missouri handshake," she said. "Once more Hitler goes for the jugular vein. He gets hold of my fanny and begins to squeeze and pinch, and hug me up. And he said: 'You're a true Aryan type. You should be running for Germany.' So after he gave me the once over and a full massage, he asked me if I'd like to spend the weekend in Berchtesgaden." Stephens refused.[3][4]

Stephens retired from athletics shortly after the games and played professional baseball and softball. She attended William Woods University, Fulton High School, and Middle River School in Fulton. She was later inducted into the William Woods Owls Hall of Fame, described as "the most well-known athlete in Fulton’s history."[5] From 1938 to 1952, she was the owner and manager of her own semi-professional basketball team; she was the first woman to own and manage a semi-professional basketball team.[6] She was employed for many years in the Research Division of the U.S. Aeronautical Chart and Information Service (later, a part of the Defense Mapping Agency) in St. Louis, Missouri.

Her longtime partner was Mabel O. Robbe (née Wires), a dietician at Francis Shimer College.[7][8]

In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[9]

She died in Saint Louis at age 75.[10]


At the 1936 Olympics, it was suggested that both Stephens and Stanisława Walasiewicz were, in fact, male.[11] The International Olympic Committee performed a physical check on Stephens and concluded that she was a woman.[12]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Helen Stephens". sports-reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on May 23, 2015. Retrieved June 6, 2015.
  2. ^ Alan Gould (December 15, 1936). "Helen Stephens is best athlete: Missouri's Olympic star wins Associated Press honor". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Gillon, Doug. "Hitler pinched my bottom". The Herald. Retrieved October 7, 2008.
  4. ^ Kinney-Hanson, Sharon (2004). The life of Helen Stephens: the Fulton Flash. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-2559-4.
  5. ^ "The "Fulton Flash" Will Be Inducted Into the William Woods Hall of Fame". William Woods University Athletics. April 17, 2013. Retrieved May 18, 2024.
  6. ^ "Did you know?". Mc Cook Gazette. November 7, 2005. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  7. ^ "In Memoriam - 31 Oct 1986, Fri • Main Edition • Page 20". St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 20. 1986. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  8. ^ "The State Historical Society of Missouri collection on Helen Stephens – Biographical Sketch" (PDF). Retrieved June 7, 2018.
  9. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Helen Stephens
  10. ^ "Olympic start Stephens dies". Times-News (Henderson, NC). January 19, 1994. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  11. ^ "Caster Semenya expected to be affected by IAAF rule changes". BBC Sport. Retrieved April 26, 2018.
  12. ^ "Helen Stephens is real girl". Harrisburg Telegraph. August 6, 1936. p. 14. Retrieved August 23, 2016.