Christel Cranz, Alpine skiing’s first Olympic gold medallist

Picture by IOC

The downhill races of the men’s and women’s Alpine skiing combined competition were both held on the opening day of the Games, 7 February, with more than 40,000 spectators flocking to the foot of Mount Kreuzjoch for the sport’s Olympic debut.

The women’s race began at 11.00. The start point was 1,580 metres above sea level, with the finish line some 820 metres lower, with the course extending for 3.3 kilometres between the two.

Germany’s Christel Cranz was the red-hot favourite. Though still only 21, she already had four world titles to her name, having won the slalom and the combined in St Moritz (SUI) in 1934 and the downhill and the combined in Mürren (SUI) in 1935.

Things did not go according to plan for Cranz in the downhill, however, a fall causing her to limp over the line some 19 seconds adrift of the leader, Norwegian teenager Laila Schou-Nilsen, with fellow Germans Lisa Resch, Käthe Grasseyer and Hadi Pfeifer also well ahead of her in second, third and fifth respectively.

Cranz dusted herself down and turned in a sparkling display in the following day’s slalom, held on Mount Gudiberg. The Belgian-born skier was in class of her own on the 23-gate course, closing the gap on her rivals on the first run and then overhauling them on the second to snatch gold with a combined points total of 97.06. Sadly for the young Schou-Nilsen, her chances of victory vanished when she incurred a six-second penalty for missing a gate, though she did have the consolation of claiming the bronze.

Cranz’s closest pursuer in the slalom was Grasseyer, who finished fully 11 seconds behind her but still managed to claim the silver. Consistent performances in the downhill and slalom gave Switzerland’s Erna Steuri fourth place, with Pfeifer and Resch completing the top six.

After becoming Alpine skiing’s first female Olympic champion, Cranz continued to collect medals at a dizzying rate, winning all three golds on offer in the 1937 world championships in Chamonix (slalom, downhill and combined) and repeating the feat two years later in Zakopane (POL). In between she won world slalom and combined gold in Engelberg (SUI) in 1938.

Cranz, who was never beaten in a combined event throughout her career, won 12 world championship gold medals in all, as well as silvers in 1934, 1935 and 1938, an outstanding record that has never been equalled in the sport.

Following the Second World War, she set up and ran a ski school, eventually retiring in 1987. She died aged 90 on 28 September 2004 in Oberstaufen-Steibis.


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