To become the first woman to win 10 Olympic medals, Smetanina, a 23-year-old physical education teacher from Mokhcha, Kome in the north-west of the Soviet Union, won four golds, five silvers, and one bronze in the Nordic skiing events.
Intense physical exertion is required for cross-country skiing. Individual competitors in the five-, ten-, and twenty-kilometer time trials leave the starting gates 30 seconds apart.
Woman to Win 10 Olympic Medals
Classical races need a diagonal stride, while freestyle races have fewer rules and are typically faster. Skiers today use computers to choose which skis and wax to use for each day of competition, and etiquette dictates that a skier who is being passed must make way as the overtaking skier shouts, “Track!”
For someone with Smetanina’s day job, it’s not surprising that she has the stamina to win so many Nordic skiing races, but the fact that she collapsed from exhaustion at a World Cup race two years after Innsbruck shows the gruelling nature of the competition.
At the 1974 Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun, Sweden, she won a gold medal in the 4x5km relay, but that was her only major accomplishment before Innsbruck. Nonetheless, she started her Olympic journey with a silver medal in the 5km race in Innsbruck, falling short of the gold by only one second.
Then, in the women’s 10km classical event, she finished first in 30 minutes, 13 seconds, after leading for the majority of the race and defeating Finland’s Helena Takalo by 47 seconds. In the 5km race, Takalo exacted her vengeance on her Soviet opponent and barely won.
Smetanina also Competed for the Soviet Union and Won Gold
Smetanina also competed for the Soviet Union and won gold in the women’s 4x5km freestyle relay (1:07:49.75) against Finland. She and Rosi Mittermaier of West Germany were the two best athletes to come out of the games.
At the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, she won three gold medals at the Holmenkollen ski festival and four gold medals in the 20 km and 45 km events.
Smetanina was awarded the Holmenkollen medal in 1979, the sport’s highest honour, and the Order of Friendship of Peoples medal from the Russian Federation in 1984.
The physical education teacher continued to compete in the Winter Olympics for four more years, this time for the unified team of the post-Soviet Union.
In 1992, at the age of 39 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks, she won a bronze medal in the women’s 4×5-kilometer relay in Albertville, making her the oldest female medalist in Winter Games history.