Hailing from Val-d’Isère, sisters Christine and Marielle Goitschel were gifted all-round skiers who broke into France’s Alpine skiing team in the early 1960s and were soon starring on the international scene, thanks to their ability to excel in all three Alpine disciplines. Christine, the elder of the two, won the national slalom title in 1962, a year in which her younger sibling pocketed a slalom silver and a combined gold at the FIS World Championships in Chamonix.
The Goitschel girls both lined up in the women’s Olympic slalom at Innsbruck 1964, held on 1 February 1964 at Axamer Lizum, with Marielle kicking off the competition. Producing an explosive run on the 51-gate course, the 18-year-old stopped the clock in 43.09, a time that would go unbeaten, with sister Christine, who went out 14th, the only other skier to dip below the 44-second mark with a time of 43.85.
In the second run, it was Christine’s turn to outpace the field, negotiating the 56-gate course a second and half faster than Marielle to claim the gold from her and complete the very first one-two by sisters in Winter Games history, with the USA’s Jean Saubert taking bronze behind them. When Christine stepped up to the top of the podium, an emotional Marielle applauded wildly.
There was more to come from the Goitschel girls, however. Held two days later, the giant slalom – a one-run event through to the end of the 1960s – saw Christine post a time of 1:53.11, which was later equalled by Saubert. The two were still out front when Marielle, starting 14th, flew down the 56-gate course in 1:52.24 to snatch the title from her sister and Saubert, completing a remarkable double for the French siblings, a feat unique in the history of the Winter Games.
When she was later asked to name her highlight of the Innsbruck Games, Marielle replied, without a moment’s hesitation: “When Christine won the slalom and I came second. Even when I won the giant, I didn’t get as excited.” Christine added: “It was unique! It was the first time! They were the most wonderful two or three minutes of our lives. After that, it doesn’t belong to you anymore.”
The Goitschel sisters received the congratulations of the French president, Charles De Gaulle, who told them: “You should know, ladies, that everyone is proud of your victories”, and were also welcomed by large and enthusiastic crowd on their return to Val-d’Isère.
They continued to enjoy success throughout the rest of the sixties, starring in a French team that was at the peak of its considerable powers, with Marielle becoming her country’s most successful female Alpine skier of all time. After winning gold in the giant, combined and the downhill at the 1966 FIS World Championships in Portillo (CHI), where she also won slalom silver behind her compatriot Annie Famose, she returned to the Olympic stage at Grenoble 1968, finally claiming the slalom gold that had eluded her four years earlier.
Christine, who went on to marry the coach Jean Béranger, was by Marielle’s side when the French ski resort of Val-Thorens was founded in the 1970s. It was there, on 2 February 2014 – on the 50th anniversary of their golden achievement at Innsbruck – that the Goitschel sisters were made Officiers de la Légion d’Honneur.