In 1960 a young Anne Heggtveit captured a nation’s heart by becoming the first Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal in skiing.
At the iconic Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley, this winsome teen from Ottawa, ON, bashed through slalom gates to score the largest winning margin ever recorded in women’s Olympic or World Slalom competition: 3.3 seconds. Heggtveit handily beat US favourite Betsy Snite (Silver Medalist), and finished a full 7 seconds ahead of Barbi Henneberger, the European dynamo who was forced to settle for the bronze medal. As they say, for Anne Heggtveit, it was one for the ages.
The following vignettes are part of an article entitled, “Golden-Girl Anne Heggtveit,” authored by ski writer Lori Knowles, as part of the Canadian Ski History Writers Project, funded by the Chawkers Foundation of Canada through a grant to the Canadian Ski Museum. To read the original story please see HERE.
Making Canadian History
There’s a black-and-white image (see right) preserved in the Canadian Ski Museum of a pint-sized Anne Heggtveit — eight years old, laced leather boots, black cap, blond curls spilling over the collar of her woolen coat. Having just forerun the Ladies International downhill and slalom, she’s standing — still and quiet — at Lake Placid next to a robust Lucile Wheeler, a fellow Canuck. The year is 1947.
Search her winsome face and there is little in Heggtveit’s expression that offers anyone any idea this timid-looking little skier was poised to make Canadian ski history. There is nothing to suggest that 13 years later at the 1960 Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Heggtveit would become Canada’s first and only Olympic Gold medalist in slalom. And there’s certainly no clue this petite, unassuming young thing would thump her opponents. Perhaps that was — and is — Heggtveit’s secret to her life’s success: maintaining a quiet, bravado-free confidence.
“Anne is deliberate and she is focused; there is certainly a quiet resolve about her. But what she is not is an extrovert.”
– Nancy Greene Raine
The making of a champion
Anne Heggtveit was born in January, 1939into a combination of Norwegian, British and American heritage. Her Canadian mother, Doll Clark, was a descendent of Mary Osgood, one of the Witches of Salem. Her father, Halvor Heggtveit, had arrived in Ottawa, ON, via North Dakota, his parents having emigrated through Ellis Island from Norway years before.
It is no surprise Anne’s intro to skiing at age two came so swiftly. Her father was Canadian Cross-Country Champion in 1934; Anne’s uncle, Bud Clark, raced Nordic in the 1936 Olympics. Another uncle, Bruce Heggtveit, himself crafted Anne’s first pair of skis and attached them to her tiny feet with leather bindings. Her mother packed a hill for her to ski in the backyard of their home in New Edinburgh, a suburb of Ottawa.
Anne’s first win on skis came fast
At an early age, Halvor convinced Anne she could be Canada’s first Olympic gold medalist in skiing. “He didn’t make me do it,” she says now, “as much as he led me to do it. He told me the Olympics were something I could aim for.”
Her first BIG win was in 1947 at age seven in the Ladies Senior slalom and combined at Wakefield, Quebec … keyword: Senior. She turned the ripe old age of eight a few days later and was invited to accompany fellow Canadian Lucile Wheeler, four years older than Anne, to Lake Placid to forerun the Ladies International Downhill and Slalom. Anne’s domination escalated from there: a second place in the 1948 Central Canadian Championships; a first-place at the 1949 Junior Ladies Slalom and Combined Championship. By age 12 she’d placed sixth in downhill, fifth in slalom and sixth in the combined at the United States National Championships. Somewhere along the line Heggtveit, skiing out of the Ottawa Ski Club, was awarded a car as a prize for winning one of her races. But she was too young to drive it. “To this day,” she says, “I have no idea what happened to that vehicle!”
Anne Heggtveit c. 1947. CSHFM Collection.
Bound for Europe
By 1954, Anne Heggtveit was on her wayto ski races in Europe; her travelling partner was fellow Canuck Lucile Wheeler. By then a veteran of the European ski circuit, Wheeler had already hired Austrian ski coach Pepi Salvenmoser—there was no National Ski Team support in those days.
With Pepi’s help, In 1954 Heggtveit racked up a slew of top-10 finishes in both Sweden and Germany. European and Scandinavian chins really started wagging when Anne won the wicked 1954 Holmenkollen giant slalom in Norway.
The 1956 Cortina blowout
Like all good tales in sporting history, all did not run smoothlyfor the quietly determined Anne Heggtveit. Leading into the 1956 Olympics, while training in the Laurentians under the eye of Mont-Tremblant icon Ernie McCulloch, Heggtveit suffered a spiral fracture in her left leg. In hospital in Ottawa for 12 weeks and in a cast for seven months, there was nerve damage. Worse, the injury nearly finished her psychologically. “I became afraid,” she says simply. “I was afraid of doing it again.”
Despite her hesitation, pain, and absence from the 1956 Olympic trials, Heggtveit was named to the ’56 Canadian Olympic team anyway, based on past performance. Lucile Wheeler won Canada a bronze medal at those ‘56 Games. Ultimately it was Wheeler’s success that helped convince Anne get herself back on track. “I knew then,” Heggtveit says, “that if I could get myself back to where I was in the past, both physically and psychologically, that I, too, could do it.”
Anne Heggtveit scrapbook (2002.01.4). CSHFM Collection.
Landmark win in Germany
And do it she did. By 1959 Heggtveit was onceagain burning up the race courses of North America and Europe. She placed first in the slalom, fourth in the downhill, and first in the combined in 1959 at St. Moritz, Switzerland. She aced both downhill and slalom at the ’59 Canadian National Championships at Mont. Orford, QC. She won both downhill and slalom at the esteemed Quebec-Kandahar at Tremblant.
And best of all, that same year Heggtveit rocked the European ski world by becoming the first North American to win the combined at the Arlberg-Kandahar in Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany — a landmark victory she does not even remember. Her friend and fellow Canadian racer, John Semmelink, was killed on-course the same day at Garmisch in a nightmare accident. “My heart was in my mouth,” Heggtveit says. “I don’t remember much else from that victory.”
The golden moment in Squaw Valley, 1960
Summer 1959 came, followed by winter 1960, and the Canadian Olympic team arrived in Squaw Valley. Heggtveit climbed the course early on race day, a gruelling course inspection that paid off. Her astounding 3.3-second overall lead over silver medalist Betsy Snite (USA) and seven-second lead over bronze medalist Barbi Henneberger, the top European, brought the crowds tumbling into the finish area.
She answered Bing Crosby’s post-Olympic questions on television, allowed herself to be interviewed by Walter Cronkite, and smiled politely on the Ed Sullivan Show. She then retired, married Ross Hamilton, and became a star, criss-crossing the country as a model for Dupont Canada — an adored Canadian sweetheart.
Anne Heggtveit charging the course on her gold-medal winning run at Squaw Valley. CSHFM Collection.
The Ottawa Ski Club Journal. CSHFM Collection.
Awards and accolades
Canada has been fairly good at commemoratingAnne’s skiing achievements. She’s won the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded annually to Canada’s top athlete, male or female, amateur or professional. She’s in the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame (1982). She’s a member of the Order of Canada.
Anne Heggtveit’s accomplishment was achieved without a huge national team, without government support, and without a lot of athlete bravado…