Ondina Valla
Ondina Valla.jpg
Personal information
Full nameTrebisonda Valla
Born(1916-05-20)20 May 1916
Bologna, Kingdom of Italy
Died16 October 2006(2006-10-16) (aged 90)
L'Aquila, Italy
Height1.73 m (5 ft 8 in)
Weight66 kg (146 lb)
CountryItaly Italy
Long jump
High jump
ClubSEF Virtus Bologna
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)
  • 80 m hs: 11.6 (1940)
  • 100 m: 12.5 (1935)
  • High jump: 1.56 m (1936)
  • Long jump: 5.39 m (1935)

Trebisonda "Ondina" Valla (20 May 1916 – 16 October 2006) was an Italian female athlete, and the first Italian woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal. She won it in the 80 m hurdles event at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, after establishing the new world record during the semi-final.


Born in Bologna, last after four brothers,[1] she was named Trebisonda – a very unusual name for the country – after the Turkish town of Trabzon (Trebisonda in Italian), which her father considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However, she was nicknamed Ondina, meaning "little wave".

Ondina Valla stood out for her personality and her sports talent even as a young girl. She rivalled with Claudia Testoni at the school championships in their hometown, and they would remain opponents for the rest of their careers. Aged 13, Ondina Valla was already considered one of Italy's top athletes. The following year she became national champion and was capped for the national team.[2]

She was a versatile athlete, capable of excellent results in sprint events, hurdles races and jumps. She soon became a favorite with Italian sports fans. For the fascist government she was the ideal icon of the healthy, strong national youth. Media defined her "the sun in a smile".

Her most important achievement was the gold medal of 80 m hurdles race at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. On 5 August she won the semi-final in 11.6, a new world record. On the following day she ran the final. It was a tight race, with four athletes rushing together at the finish line. There were no doubts about Valla's victory, but a photofinish picture was needed to award the silver and bronze medals. Valla's lifelong rival, Claudia Testoni, finished fourth, without a medal. Valla and Testoni were also members of the Italian 4 × 100 m relay team which finished fourth.[3]

The victory of Valla was important for the Fascist regime and the hostility of many leaders for the participation of women in athletic competitions started to decrease. Mussolini used the victory of the Italian athlete for propaganda, as a demonstration of the strength of the Italian race.[4]

After those Olympic Games, Ondina Valla was forced to limit her competitions because of back problems. However, she still continued to compete until the early 1940s.

World record


Year Competition Venue Position Event Performance Note
1936 Olympic Games Germany Berlin 1st 80 metres hurdles 11.7
Olympic record
4th 4 × 100 m relay 48.7

National titles

Ondina Valla has won the Italian Athletics Championships (individual), 16 times in various specialties.[6]

See also


  1. ^ "Trebisonda "Ondina" Valla: la prima donna d'oro" (in Italian). scheggedicalcio.jimdo.com. Archived from the original on 24 June 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  2. ^ "Ondina Valla - -Biography". sports-reference.com. Archived from the original on 17 April 2020. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  3. ^ "IAAF President's Message". iaaf.org. Archived from the original on 11 August 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  4. ^ Giuseppe D'Angelo & Erminio Fonzo,«Arrivederci a Tokyo». Ondina Valla e lo sport femminile durante il fascismo, in "La Camera Blu. Rivista di studi di genere", 2017, pp. 332-360. https://www.academia.edu/35547503/_Arrivederci_a_Tokyo_._Ondina_Valla_e_lo_sport_femminile_durante_il_fascismo. Retrieved 5 January 2017
  5. ^ "1936 Olympic champion Trebisonda Valla dies at 90". european-athletics.org. Archived from the original on 14 April 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2012. Valla, often known by her nickname Ondina or ‘Little Wave', won the 1936 Olympic Games 80m hurdles gold medal having set a world record of 11.6 in her semi-final.
  6. ^ "ITALIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS". gbrathletics.com. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
Records Preceded by Ruth Engelhard 80 metres hs World Record Holder 5 August 1936 - 1 August 1937 Succeeded by Barbara Burke