Stefka Kostadinova is a former Bulgarian athlete and the reigning world record holder in the women’s high jump. Possessed with an athletic physique, she started displaying her talent from a very young age and after training under Nikolay Petrov, who later became her husband, she easily surpassed the barrier of 2 meters in high jump, when she was a teenager. Her early international successes came in 1985, when she won the gold medals at the European Athletics Indoor Championships and the World Indoor Championships. Next, she set the world record of 2.09 m in the women’s high jump event at the 1987 World Athletic Championships, held in Rome. After these astonishing accomplishments, she participated in the Seoul Olympics but managed to add only the silver medal to her tally. The following year, she won her third World Championship in indoor track and then directed her focus towards winning the Olympic gold. However, an ill-timed injury in the leg shortly before the beginning of the 1992 Olympics prevented her from performing at her maximum potential and she finished fourth in the competition. In the 1996 Olympics, she was finally able to succeed and earn a gold medal for herself in high jump. The following year, after winning her fifth World Indoor Championship, she took retirement from athletics. A determined sportsperson and a woman of sheer commitment, she continues to be one of the most loved and respected athletes of her time
Childhood & Early Life
Stefka Kostadinova was born on March 25, 1965, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She was inclined towards athletics from an early age and attended the Plovdiv School of Sports.
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In 1981, she competed at the European Junior Championships but finished at the 10th position. In the following years, she started improving rapidly and displayed good potential, increasing her personal best to 2m.
In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Stefka Kostadinova didn’t get the opportunity to showcase her talent due to the Eastern Bloc’s boycott.
In 1985, she rose to prominence as one of the world’s best women athletes in high jump event, and won all of her 25 high jump competitions that year. She won the gold medal at the inaugural World Indoor Athletics Championship, held in Paris and at the European Athletics Indoor Championship, held in Pireaus.
In 1986, she won the gold at the Stuttgart European Championships and also managed to equal the world record of 2.07m at Sofia.
In 1987, she cleared 2.05 m and went on to win the World Indoor Championships at Indianapolis. The same year, she also emerged victorious with a gold medal at the European Athletics Indoor Championships, held in Liévin France.
The year 1987 was a highly productive one for her. She won the gold medal at the World Athletic Championships in Rome, setting the current world record of 2.09 m.
In 1988, she participated in the Seoul Olympics and won the silver medal. The following year, although she bounced back at the World Indoor Championships to win her third consecutive world title, most of her outdoor season of 1989 was severely restricted due to a knee injury.
In 1990, she broke a bone in her left foot and was unable to defend her European title that year as well as her World Indoor title in early 1991.
Despite these setbacks, she quickly regained most of her form in the 1991 outdoor season. But, her performance at the World Championships in Tokyo was somewhat disappointing, when she finished sixth with a best jump of 1.93 m.
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Her disappointing form continued in the 1992 Olympics where she finished at the fourth position. In 1993, she overcame that defeat at Toronto where she won her fourth World Indoor Championship title.
In 1994, she missed most of the competitive season being on maternity leave until January 1995. Although she did not resume competition until July that year, she won the gold medal at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg.
In 1996, Stefka Kostadinova achieved the crowning glory when she finally managed to won the Olympic gold. She achieved this feat at the Atlanta Olympics.
In 1997, she won her fifth gold medal at the World Indoor Championships which made her the first athlete to have won the World Indoor title five times in her career.
In 1999, she officially announced her retirement and put an end to her athletic career.
Awards & Achievements
Her world record of 2.09 m set at 1987 World Athletics Championship, held in Rome, still remains unbeaten.
Stefka Kostadinova jumped over 2 meters more than 197 times in her career, a feat unmatched by any other athlete so far.
She has been included in the Top 10 of the Twentieth Century Female Athletes, according to the International Athletics Federation.
Personal Life & Legacy
Stefka Kostadinova married her coach, Nikolay Petrov, and in 1995, gave birth to her son, Nikolay. The couple divorced in 1999.