Which women have made the biggest breakthroughs in sport? Some might select Serena Williams for her twenty-three Grand Slam tennis titles or Nadia Comăneci for achieving the first ‘perfect ten’ in gymnastics. Historians might choose Alice Milliat, who organised a Women’s Olympiad in the 1920s, at a time when the founder of the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, believed that women’s sport was ‘against the laws of nature’. Missing from any list until now has been Lata Brandisová, a Czech countess who overcame massive gender prejudice to compete in the world’s most dangerous horse race, becoming a national heroine by going on to triumph in it over the sporting elite of Hitler’s Germany.
Marie Immaculata Brandisová was born into the aristocratic family of Brandis in the twilight years of the Habsburg Empire. Their chateau in Ritka was no more than a large farmhouse, but they had connections to the much richer Kinský family, which benefited the shy, country-loving young Brandisová, who