Boyarskikh nets cross country medal hat-trick

Innsbruck 1964

Born in Sverdlovsk (since renamed Yekaterinburg) in the Urals, Klavdiya Boyarskikh was 23 when she won the 1964 national 5km title to earn selection for the Soviet women’s cross country skiing team for Innsbruck along with Mariya Gusakova, Alevtina Kolchina, Rita Achkina and Yevdokiya Mekshilo.

Held in Seefeld on 1 February, the Olympic 10km race was Boyarskikh’s first international appearance, though she showed no sign of nerves in taking a narrow lead from team-mate Mekshilo at the halfway stage, with defending champion Gusakova 15 seconds back.

The fastest of the three over the last five kilometres, Gusakova closed up on the two frontrunners but was powerless to prevent Boyarskikh from crossing the line first in a time of 40:24.3, with Mekshilo claiming silver and Gusakova bronze as the Soviet Union secured another one-two-three to go with its clean sweep in the same event at Squaw Valley 1960.

The experts predicted yet more Soviet domination when the 5km made its Olympic debut four days later, though it was the young Finn Senja Pusula who was fastest at the halfway stage from Sweden’s Toini Gustafsson, with Boyarskikh, a late starter in the No30 bib, running third.

Pusula and Gustafsson could not maintain the pace, however, leaving it to another Finn, Mirja Lehtonen, to make life difficult for the newly crowned 10km champion. Having set off three places ahead of her Soviet rival, Lehtonen made her dig deep but could do nothing to match her finishing speed, with Boyarskikh posting a time of 17:50.5 to win gold from the Finn by nearly 2.5 seconds. Lying sixth at the midway split, Kolchina powered into third place, over 18 seconds adrift of her team-mate.

The final women’s event, the 3x5km relay, took place three days later and proved to be a procession for the peerless Soviet team. Setting off first, Kolchina opened up a 36-second lead over closest pursuers Sweden, an advantage that Mekshilo extended further before handing over to Boyarskikh, who duly posted the fastest lap of the whole competition to give the USSR victory by over two minutes from the Swedes, with Finland third.

The first female cross-country skier to win every Olympic event, Boyarskikh failed to make the USSR team for Grenoble 1968 and promptly retired, later becoming a cross-country skiing coach at her club in Yekaterinburg. She died at the age of 70 on 12 December 2009.

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