At the age of 17, she was the first Brazilian and South-American woman to participate in the Summer Olympic Games, at the 1932 Summer Olympics, in Los Los Angeles Born in São Paulo 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.
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. 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. 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 Doctorate"Or Hospital, in Copacabana, but medical personnel couldn"t revive her and she died of cardiac arrest, aged 92. Before her death, Maria Lenk still swam 1½ kilometres every day, even in her 90s.
At the time of her death, Maria Lenk still held five:.