Gretchen Fraser

The First American Ski Champion

Gretchen Fraser twice acted as a skiing double for Sonja Henie in the films Thin Ice (1937) and Sun Valley Serenade (1941). Fraser qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1940, but those Games were cancelled because of war. During World War II, she taught skiing to soldiers who had lost limbs.

By the time the Olympics were revived in 1948, Fraser, at age 28, was considered an unknown quantity. Competing in the slalom, she recorded the fastest time of the first run. As Fraser prepared to lead off the second round, a problem developed in the telephone timing system between the top and the bottom of the hill. Despite a 17-minute delay at such a critical time, Fraser skied the second fastest time of the run and, based on her accumulated time, earned the gold medal: the first ever by an American skier. She also won the silver medal in alpine combined.