Maria Lenk
Maria Lenk with then-Brazilian Minister of Sports Agnelo Queiroz.
Personal information
National team Brazil
BornJanuary 15, 1915
São Paulo, Brazil
DiedApril 16, 2007(2007-04-16) (aged 92)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Maria Emma Hulga Lenk (January 15, 1915 – April 16, 2007) was a Brazilian swimmer, the first South American woman to participate in the Summer Olympic Games, in 1932 (Los Angeles).[1][2]


Maria Lenk in 1940.
Maria Lenk in 1940.

Born in São Paulo, Maria Lenk was the first Brazilian in history to set a world record in swimming. On November 8, 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 event.[3] This record lasted almost 5 years, until Nel van Vliet, from the Netherlands broke it on August 17, 1946, with a time of 2:52.6.

In the same year, she also broke the world record for the discontinued category of 400m breaststroke, with a time of 6:15.8.[4]

She also participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics, in Berlin, where she reached the semifinals of the 200m breaststroke event. In this occasion, she also became the first woman in the world to swim the Butterfly stroke in an official competition. At the time, the Butterfly stroke was used as a form of swimming the 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.

She retired in 1942, but never stopped swimming, focusing on Masters events.

On April 16, 2007, she was training in the Clube de Regatas do Flamengo's swimming pool when her blood pressure dropped and she suffered a sudden respiratory arrest. She was taken to Copa D'Or Hospital, in Copacabana, but medical personnel couldn't revive her and she died of cardiac arrest, aged 92.[5]

Before her death, Maria Lenk still swam 1½ kilometres every day, even in her 90s.

Master World Records

At the time of her death, Maria Lenk still held five Master 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


See also


  1. ^ "Lenk, a primeira brasileira em Olimpíadas" (in Portuguese)
  2. ^ "First female competitors at the Olympics by country". Olympedia. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Cielo is the 13º brazilian world record holder". Globoesporte (in Portuguese). July 30, 2009. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  4. ^ "Cielo is the 13º brazilian world record holder". Globoesporte (in Portuguese). July 30, 2009. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  5. ^ "Morre a nadadora Maria Lenk" (in Portuguese)
  6. ^ Rio 2016 Bid Book, Vol.2--Sports & Venues section. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
  7. ^ "Troféu Brasil vai se chamar Maria Lenk" [The Brazilian Swimming Trophy is renamed to Maria Lenk Trophy] (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2014-03-20.
Records Preceded by Jopie Waalberg Women's 200 metre breaststrokeworld record holder (long course) 8 November 1939 – 19 March 1941 Succeeded by Anni Kapell