Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.
Biography of Marlene Ahrens, Chilean athlete who, with a javelin throw, won for Chile the first Olympic medal won by a woman. This victory was achieved at the “Melbourne Olympics” in 1956.
She also won two gold medals at the Pan American Games, four gold medals at the South American Athletics Championships and one gold medal at the Ibero-American Games.
Early years of the Chilean Olympic athlete
Marlene Ahrens Ostertag was born in Concepción, Chile, on July 27, 1933. She was named after Marlene Dietrich.
Her father Hermann Ahrens was a German who had come from Hamburg; He worked in a bank. Her mother, Gertrudis, was a homeowner.
Everyone lived happily in Concepción, but in the Chillán earthquake on January 24, 1939, their house fell. The scare was so great that they left Concepción and went to Santiago.
The maternal family had a piece of land in the Aconcagua valley, next to San Felipe. Thereafter, the Ahrens Ostertag made their lives between the countryside and the city.
In the mid-1940s, when Mom Gertrudis got tired of Santiago, they finally took the house apart and went to live in the country.
Marlene Arhens’ sporting beginnings
Marlene never practiced sports in a systematic way. Her thing was to put on pants and go horseback riding, climb trees and swim in the river. She ran all day.
Her brother Erwin Ahrens remembers that Marlene, since she was little, had a prodigious arm.
Her father Hermann Ahrens was a loving father, who gave her everything in taste. Her mother, Gertrudis, was the one who “nagged”, the one who brought order to the house.
Marlene’s two older brothers entered the Viña del Mar Naval School.
They enrolled her in the boarding school of the English Nuns in Viña del Mar.
When she left school, the family continued to live in the country. Marlene spent long periods at the home of her friend Isabel Lyon.
Friends of the extraordinary Chilean athlete
She was at Isabel Lyon’s house when she was introduced to Jorge Ebensperger, who would become her husband.
Jorge was 15 years older than her. He was her first sentimental friend, and the courtship lasted a year and a half.
Her friend Isabel Lyon remembers. “Marlene married very little girl, 20 years old. She was not so eager, she said to me: I shouldn’t get married. But he, who adored her, convinced her“.
Her brother Erwin recounted: “As she was so restless, I said that the husband was going to have a difficult marriage. When they started dating Jorge, I said, this question may not work. But Jorge was a bread of God. He was a very good man. Marlene is a woman of great character; but he always knew how to carry her ”.
Jorge Ebensperger was very athletic: he played field hockey and did gymnastics at Club Manquehue.
Marlene played jockey on Saturdays and Sundays; and volleyball, Monday and Thursday nights. She also did gymnastics.
Marlene Ahrens in javelin competitions
The history of the javelin is like this: once, after finishing the hockey season in Santiago, Marlene and Jorge went, along with their respective teams, to the beach.
There, everyone started throwing rocks towards the sea. She did it even further than men. Everyone realized that Marlene had extraordinary physical abilities for launch.
When they arrived in Santiago, Jorge recommended it to the Club Manquehue sports coach. A few days later, Marlene Ahrens’ unstoppable career as a javelin thrower began.
Two weeks later, Marlene participated in her first novitiate championship. There she made a mark that surprised everyone.
At that time, she would have been among the best in South America. Her slender 1.75m figure and blonde German hair filled magazines and newspapers for years.
Marlene Ahrens’ mother didn’t celebrate so much that her daughter put on shorts to throw. It was tremendous for her, who never wore pants.
Marlene’s marriage to Jorge Ebensperger
Marlene Ahrens and Jorge Ebensperger were married on November 21, 1953. Upon returning from their honeymoon, the Athletics Federation had preselected Marlene to compete in a South American tournament in Sao Paulo.
On Christmas of that year, her husband and father gave her the first javelin, which they had ordered from the United States.
From that moment on, Marlene began to throw it every afternoon in her family’s field, in San Felipe. Her technique was a mix of timing, arm speed, and torso punch.
First sporting triumphs of the Chilean athlete
In 1954, Marlene Ahrens participated for Chile in the South American Athletics Championship in Sao Paulo.
Despite having no special technical training, she managed to throw the javelin at 41.66 meters and win a Silver medal.
Marlene Ahrens herself said: “It seems I had a body like that. Not that it was a passion. It was my husband who took me to train. Without it, surely I would not have done anything. ”
Before long, she became pregnant with her first daughter, journalist Karin Ebensperger. Karin was born in Santiago de Chile, on March 4, 1955.
This happy circumstance made Marlene’s preparation for the great Australian Olympic event far from being the most adequate.
Marlene Ahrens was just 23 years old. And at that time She read little news in the newspapers. That is why, at first, the importance of being nominated to go to the Olympic Games later that year did not take weight.
When Karin was just over a year old, from April 14 to 22, 1956, the South American Athletics Championship was held in Santiago, Chile. Marlene Ahrens decided to participate, and with a launch of 48.73 meters she won a Gold medal.
Marlene Ahrens’ triumph in Melbourne 1956
Between November 22 and December 8, 1956, the Melbourne Olympics were held.
Marlene Ahrens was the standard-bearer in the opening parade. She was the only woman in the Chilean delegation.
On November 28, 1956, when she threw the javelin, it landed at a distance of 50.38 m. This result earned her to receive the Olympic silver medal.
With this valuable silver medal, Chile added the fourth Olympic medal in its history.
On this occasion, Marlene Ahrens was only surpassed by the Soviet Inese Jaunzeme, who threw her javelin at 53.86m and won the gold medal.
Marlene Ahrens’ triumph captivated an entire generation of Chileans. It was an incentive for the entire South American continent. In these countries they always saw with resignation that their athletes were left without the medals that others took: Americans, Russians and English.
Furthermore, her discipline, psychological strength and sustained effort were an example for many young people. Young women saw that nothing is impossible in a sports career.
Without a coach, without a psychologist and without a masseuse, only her tenacity led her to victory and worldwide recognition.
Marlene Ahrens was totally lacking in today’s comforts in international competitive sport.
She paid for the trips herself. The only sponsor she had was her husband. He bought her javelins and slippers in Europe or the United States.
Actually, she had never thought of going to an Olympiad. Incredible as it may seem, in those years Marlene Ahrens didn’t even know what an Olympiad was.
Lack of support for their Olympic competitions
On the other hand, nobody in Chile expected an Olympic medal. In fact, in Australia, when asked how she trained and how she fed, she replied that she ate the same as her family and that she trained little, one hour a day, in periods before the championships.
At first they did not believe her and even caught her attention, thinking she was mocking.
In an interview 50 years after this great triumph, she recalled, laughing, an anecdote from when the award ceremony in Melbourne ended: “They left me a letter that I had to answer. They asked me how many hours I trained a day; how I divided my hours; how I fed me.
I answered everything, I had no coach. Just the weekend. The rest of the days I trained alone for an hour.
They did not believe me and sent me to call to tell me that it was a serious survey. I told them it was the truth. I trained in my own way, the ‘brutanteca’ ”.
Marlene Ahrens in javelin competitions after 1956
In the following six years, Marlene took five more gold medals to the national medal standings.
At the beginning of 1958, at the Montevideo South American Championship, she won the Gold Medal.
Only Marlene’s strength and bravery made this feat possible, performed shortly after undergoing surgery, for a kidney operation.
On November 22, 1958, in the city of Concepción, she had her son Roberto.
In 1959, at the Pan American Games in Chicago, she won another Gold Medal.
In 1960, she participated in the Olympic Games in Rome, where she returned to be the standard-bearer for Chile during the opening ceremony of those games.
Shortly before, she had lost her third child, making it impossible for her to train. Anyway, she went to Rome because they insisted that she compete. She was ranked eleventh in the javelin throw.
In 1961, in the South American Athletics Championship in Lima, she won a Gold Medal.
The following year, at the 1962 Ibero-American Games in Madrid, she again won a Gold Medal.
In 1963, at the Pan American Games in São Paulo, she won her fifth Gold Medal.
Shortly after, competing in the South American Athletics Championship, in Cali, in 1963, she had a muscular tear.
In addition, she received notice that her father was serious, in Chile. She tried to communicate with him, but failed.
A few hours later, word came to her that he was dead.
Despite the fact that her husband asked her to return to Santiago, she decided to stay.
Crying, she told Jorge Ebensperger that her father would have wanted her to compete and that she was going to dedicate a triumph to him.
She returned to Chile with the sixth gold medal in hand.
Marlene Ahrens and the Chilean Olympic Committee
The following year, in 1964, she had recovered from physical and mental ailments; She was at her best and with the hope of exceeding the Melbourne landmark in Tokyo.
However, on the eve of the Games she received an unusual sanction: the Chilean Olympic Committee suspended her for a year, as punishment for statements that appeared in the Clarín newspaper and that she had denied.
Marlene later stated: “I asked the journalist to go to the Federation to say what I said and what he reproduced. They still punished me”.
She went on to explain that “the president of the Olympic Committee (Alberto Labra) had blood on his eye with me. Everything, because when we went to the 1959 Chicago Pan American Championship, he overstepped and I stopped him. So when he was elected, he grabbed those statements and there was no case”.
Marlene said to her friend Isabel Lyon “I do not take the javelin again in the rest of my life, these people behaved so badly with me that I do not care.“
Her husband Jorge tried to get Marlene to follow, others begged her to come back. But she flatly refused. She never took a javelin again, not even in the field.
Only many years later, in 1996, Marlene explained the true cause of that punishment; was due to a sexual harassment problem. “I stopped dead a leader, for what today would be classified as sexual harassment.
I went to speak with the president of the Olympic Committee to stamp my claim, because two more athletes had been bothered by this person.
At that meeting they asked me to shut up, because if I made the complaint public it would be very serious for Olympism.
That cost me not to go to Tokyo, that I was suspended and that I was prohibited from appealing. ”
This incident ended her racing career
Marlene Ahrens said: “In ’64 I retired and I didn’t want to know anything else about athletics. When the year passed, I appealed with evidence, they put a commission chosen by them and in the end they said that it was not worth the punishment.
However, so that the board did not have to resign, they put the ruling to a vote and worked the votes. They did not let me expose my part, it was a flawed vote. And there I said ‘never again’.
Marlene Ahrens life after 1964
After radically abandoning the javelin throw, Marlene dabbled in competitive tennis.
She started late, at 32 years old. However, in a short time she had already been placed in the ranking of the best tennis players locally.
In 1967, she won the Chile Tournament in mixed doubles alongside Omar Pabst.
Finally she had to leave tennis due to a physical problem: her knee was injured as a result of it, in one of the sports tournaments.
A teammate had thrown a javelin and it went to hit her leg.
Since 1979, Marlene has been engaged in competition riding, first in equestrian jumping and then in training.
In this modality, she represented Chile at the 1995 Pan American Games, in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
Eliana Gaete was 19 years old and a fence jumper when she met Marlene Ahrens.
They were teammates and Marlene had started competing. Eliana remembers that “Marlene trained only a little, something jogged and then jumped“.
In an interview with the newspaper El Mercurio in Santiago de Chile, Eliana said of her: “I was a good athlete, because She had natural conditions, a privileged physique. If she had trained, she could have been a world champion. “
Marlene Ahrens’ great passion was horses.
Her daughter, Karin Ebensperger in an interview with El Mercurio from Santiago de Chile, said: “She is going to go down in history for her Olympic medal in athletics, but if I had to say what my mom is, I would tell you that she is a horsewoman. “
Marlene Ahrens retired from riding in 2012, when she was 79 years old.
During the period from 2000 to 2012, Marlene Ahrens held the position of Vice President of the Chilean Olympic Committee.
However, she ended up very disenchanted, due to the irregularities she had to see.
In an interview they did in 2016, she said: “I retired, because there were things that I did not like.
When I asked about the silver (money), they got upset. And they did things, like putting a “1” in front of a 40,000 peso ballot and putting 100,000 pesos in their pockets.
Then, when there was a reception for some military men who were world champions in Italy, I asked how much the cocktail cost and they got upset. There I decided not to continue. “
The Olympic athlete last years
Currently, she remained very active and without major health problems. Until 2012 she practiced horse riding at a competitive level.
Later, it has been done recreationally. She combined it with the aquatic gymnastics that she performed three times a week. Horse riding has always been her greatest passion.
She also visited the Mothers Center located in La Calera every month and which has been named after her for 48 years.
She never accepted money for her sports activities. And it never represented any brand. The only insignia that she always used was the Chilean shield.
Her life was one of constant dedication to the sport, without neglecting always being with her family.
Other Chilean women who have stood out
In the 20th century, there have been numerous Chilean women who began to be news in the world. Among them: María Teresa Ruiz, notable astronomer. Violeta Parra, folk singer of international fame. Marcela Contreras, notable doctor. Adriana Valdés, essayist and director of the Chilean Academic of the language. All of them, preceded by the admirable poet Gabriela Mistral.
Marlene Arhens passed away on Wednesday, June 17, 2020, at age 86, from heart failure. At the time of her death, no other Chilean woman has obtained a medal at the Olympic Games.
All of Chile is waiting for the next athlete to replace her on the Olympic podium.
Click here if you want to see this biography in Spanish translation.