Born at Bologna, 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. She was the little girl of the family, born after four brothers, and was mostly called by her nickname "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.
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 life-long rival, Claudia Testoni, finished fourth, without a medal.
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.
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