Historically, women have run high hurdles races at a variety of distances. In the Olympics, women ran 80-meter hurdles from 1932 through 1968, before moving up to 100 meters in Munich in 1972. With a couple of exceptions, East European competitors have dominated the 100-meter hurdles world record books, beginning with initial record-holders Karin Balzer of East Germany and Poland's Teresa Sukniewicz. On June 20, 1969, Balzer – the 1964 Olympic champion in the 80-meter hurdles – edged Sukniewicz over 100 meters in Warsaw, but each was credited with a time of 13.3 seconds and the pair entered the books together with the initial world mark recognized by the IAAF. Five weeks later, however, Balzer pushed Sukniewicz out of the record book by running a 13-flat race in Leipzig. Balzer then lowered the mark to 12.9 seconds in September.
Now You See the Record, Now You Don’t
As you'd expect in a new event, records continued to fall in the early 1970s. The mark was broken or tied four times in 1970, beginning when Sukniewicz took the record back in June, posting a 12.8-second time in Warsaw. Taiwan's Chi Cheng then matched the time in Munich the following month. Two weeks later it was Balzer back on top after a 12.7-second run in East Berlin. Sukniewicz wasn't finished, however, as she matched Balzer's time of 12.7 seconds in September.
In 1971, Balzer matched the mark on July 25, and then set a new standard of 12.6 seconds just six days later. East Germany's Annelie Ehrhardt lowered the mark to 12.5 at Potsdam in June of 1972, less than three months before she won the initial Olympic 100-meter hurdles gold medal. Later in June, the East Europeans were forced to share the mark as Australia's Pamela Kilborn-Ryan – a three-time Commonwealth Games hurdles champion – won on the popular Warsaw track in 12.5 seconds. That record stood for just more than a year, until Ehrhardt dropped the record to 12.3 in a Dresden race.
When the IAAF mandated that only electrically-timed races would count for world record purposes in 1975, Ehrhardt retained the record, but it was her 1972 Olympic gold medal-winning time of 12.59 seconds that went into the books. That standard survived until 1978, when Poland's Grazyna Rabsztyn – a three-time gold medalist at the World University Games – lowered the mark to 12.48. She then improved her record to 12.36 in Warsaw in 1980.
Bulgarians Take Charge
Bulgaria took ownership of the 100-meter hurdles record in 1986, when Yordanka Donkova nipped Rabsztyn’s mark with a time of 12.35 during a preliminary heat at the Weltklasse meet in Germany. Donkova improved the mark to 12.29 about an hour later, in the Weltklasse final, then lowered it to 12.26 in Ljubljana the next month. Ginka Zagorcheva inched past her fellow Bulgarian with a time of 12.25 in 1987, but Donkova took the record back with a 12.21-second performance in 1988, about a month before she won the Olympic 100-meter hurdles gold medal in Seoul. Running in lane 2, Donkova beat all her competitors to the first hurdle and led by several strides before the race was half over. Despite the lack of competition, Donkova ran hard to the finish to win the meet in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, in world-record time.