World War II robbed Sun Valley skier Gretchen Fraser of two Olympic Games. It also took away a chance to prove what she probably was the greatest female alpine skier ever.
Consider: On Feb. 5, 1948, Fraser won the gold metal in women’s slalom at the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, beating Antoinette Meyer. A day earlier, she took the silver in the women’s alpine combined event.
She was 28 years old at the time.
By contrast, Janica Kostelic of Croatia — widely considered the best women’s alpine skier — won three golds at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics less than a month after her 20th birthday. Kostelic captured another in Turin, Italy, at age 24.
Had the Winter Games been held as scheduled in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in February 1940, and in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in February 1944, Fraser would have been the overwhelming favorite in the slalom and the combined. Both games were canceled because of the war.
The Tacoma, Wash., native, who married skier Don Fraser in 1939 and moved to Sun Valley, was the dominant female alpine skier in the world for a decade during the war years. For an elite skier, that’s unprecedented longevity.
Given two more Olympics to do in it, Gretchen Fraser would likely have ended up with five gold metals and a silver.
Instead, she spent World War II in Sun Valley, helping rehabilitate wounded and disabled veterans through skiing.
Unlike modern female alpine skiers, Fraser wasn’t a product of the gym.
She was short — 5 feet, 3 inches tall — and weighed just 117 pounds, including her trademark blonde pigtails. By contrast, Kostelic stands almost 6 feet and weighed 170 pounds, and Picabo Street is 5-7, 160. Fraser won consistently because she outworked her competitors and was smart, nimble and ever adaptable.
“Gretchen gave the nation a gracious champion,” said U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President Dave Marolt after Fraser’s death in 1994. “In a day when women were not encouraged to take part in elite sports, Fraser was the epitome of a great champion. She lived her life living the Olympic idea.”
Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor.
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