Kreiner's teen spirit prevails in the giant slalom

As she waited at the starting gate, ready to launch herself down the giant slalom course at the 1976 Olympic Winter Games, 17-year-old Kathy Kreiner told herself “They don’t know it, but I am going to win.” So it proved.

The unfancied Kreiner took gold in the race in 1:29.15 with an electrifying run that caused a huge upset – not least because it meant she denied her rival Rosi Mittermaier a clean sweep of women’s Alpine ski golds.

Though Kreiner’s Olympic career ended after the 1980 Games, she had by that point spent almost two decades on the slopes. Hailing from a family of skiers – her sister competed in the 1972 Olympic Games – she took up the sport at the age of three in her home town of Timmins in Northern Ontario, and began competing four years later.

By the time she was 14 she had progressed rapidly and was included in the Canadian women’s Alpine ski team. She won her first World Cup giant slalom event in Pfronten, West Germany, in 1974. Despite her experience, the youthful Kreiner was a long shot by the time the 1976 Games in Innsbruck came round.

First out of the gates, she skied the race of her life, a relaxed and technically perfect run – then faced an agonising wait as 29 competitors completed their runs. But once the last of these had gone Kreiner became the only Canadian to win gold in Innsbruck. At the time she was the youngest person ever to win an Olympic skiing medal. That night, she attended the medal ceremony wearing a teammate’s Canadian Olympic uniform. The self-effacing young champion had earlier shipped her outfit back home, assuming she wouldn’t be required to wear it.

Her teammate “Jungle” Jim Hunter leapt over the fence at the finish line and hoisted her on to his shoulders – the snapshot of the beaming Kreiner proving one of the most enduring images in Winter Games history.

She would remain on the national team until the 1980 Lake Placid Games, competing in 62 World Cup races in slalom, giant slalom and downhill events and placing in the top 10 on 22 occasions.