The story of Anne Heggtveit, who won Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing

Walter Cronkite interviewed her; Ed Sullivan introduced her to America, live and in person, on his show

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Anne Hamilton has a dog to walk, specially designed shoes to allow her to walk painlessly and a rowing machine in the garage.

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“I try to stay in shape,” she laughs, “while paying for the sins of the past.”

These sins were committed on a pair of skis and involved the things she did to her body on various mountain slopes as a young go-getter. For the past 10 years, the 83-year-old has had a knee replaced and ankle fusion surgery resulting from a decades-old spiral fracture in her leg.

She now lives in North Carolina, far from the Ottawa home of her youth. Some acquaintances know of her Olympic gold medal in slalom in 1960 and her status as the first Canadian to win an Olympic event on skis.

Some have no idea.

“It’s not something I really talk about,” Hamilton said. “It’s just another life.”

She was then Anne Heggtveit, and a real natural. Her father, Halvor Heggtveit, was a Canadian cross-country ski champion. Anne’s prowess on the boards earned her a mention in the Citizen of Ottawa at two years old. At six years old, “the Ottawa mite” was filmed on the slopes by a Canadian Army film unit and landed a full feature in the same newspaper, complete with photo.

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And so on, the growing accomplishments, until she was 21, 115 pounds, perched on two thin planks, winning an Olympic gold medal in Squaw Valley – “digging, rustling and swaying as she went. as we go,” wrote the Canadian Press.

“I’m not a ski expert.” artist Bing Crosby said looking closely, “but there was a great run by this Canadian girl, just gorgeous.”

Walter Cronkite interviewed her; Ed Sullivan introduced her to America, live and in person, on his show.

She also won the Olympic combined, but then the International Olympic Committee did not award gold medals for it. If they did, she would have two.

“This is the greatest thing that has happened to Canada in any Olympics,” team leader Andy Tommy shamelessly told reporters after the breakthrough.

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And then she retired, because there was nothing left to do in the sport, and national team skiing in 1960 was not like national team skiing in 2022.

(Photo: Bill Lingard Newton Collection, City Archives of Ottawa)

“I remember being asked afterwards, how did it go?” Hamilton says now. “It’s a very difficult question. I trained, in my case, from the age of two until the age of 21. And all of a sudden, what you were brought up to do, you achieved. Let’s go. And you have this void that you have to face, and find out who you are. I don’t care if you’re Simone Biles or who you are, you have to – at some point – deal with it.

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“We didn’t have the kind of team support they have now. Much of the fundraising has been done at the local level. My ski club, my ski area. Everyone was looking for money; there was no Alpine Canada or anything like that. The minute the Olympics ended, that was the end of our ski team for that year. We were funded to go to the Olympics and then we go home.

So Heggtveit, who had also competed in the 1956 Olympics, left elite skiing at the age of 21, after which she won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s top athlete in 1960.

She met and married Ross Hamilton and raised a family. Decades later, she yearned to go back to school and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in accounting at age 54. She worked in this field for several years, then turned to botany and photography. She made and sold flower arrangements; turned weddings; sold cards with his photographic work on them.

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She filled the void; hunted and found his passions. She has the gold medal safely hidden and laughs when asked if she stands and looks at the thing.

“You know, you can’t keep them in the house, even though I have a nice picture of them on the wall, a really good reproduction,” she says. “If I really want to watch something, I can watch this.

“The only time I really think about my old life and my career,” she added, “is when the Olympics are on and I get calls like yours.”

Anne Heggtveit in 1960, surrounded by young fans with ski poles.
Anne Heggtveit in 1960, surrounded by young fans with ski poles. Photo by Montreal Star /Files

But her memory is vivid and she is full of stories. The day before the slalom in Squaw Valley, the skiers had the opportunity to study the difficult and fast courses of Papoose Peak up close. She refused, as she knew she would then have them running through her mind all night, costing her precious sleep.

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The next morning, she climbed the hill and studied the first course, quickly memorizing the gates, then did the same for the second course when it was time to run it.

After a great first run, she went bust on the second.

“I decided I was going to crash or stand up,” she told reporters later, and won gold because she did the second and not the first.

Hamilton is a big proponent of the mental side of the game. Back then next to her bed there was a cut on the power of positive thinking, and even today when she’s sitting in front of the TV and looks at the Olympics, she looks with the eye of a gold medalist.

“You look at the top 20 or 25 women, they’re technically almost the same,” she says. “Really, the edge is all mental. He’s the one who can handle that, the mental aspect, at the right time. That’s his whole secret. »

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Hamilton was a slalom specialist and also skied giant slalom and downhill. But slalom was her priority and she saw it as the path to an Olympic medal. And that’s how it played out.

“A few of the local press who can remain anonymous – I don’t even know if they’re alive at this point – neglected to go and watch the race, as I had two 12th place finishes in my two previous events,” she laughs, referring to her performance in giant slalom and downhill. “They admitted it, and they admitted where they were. That was the time.”

Hamilton says she will be watching the 2022 Winter Olympics with great interest – she loves the Summer Games too – and will “keep hoping for maple leaves up there on the podium”.

She had her knee replaced 10 years ago and hasn’t skied since, so there’s no way Canada’s first ever Olympic track winner will try to replicate the feats she sees on the Chinese side.

“You get to the point where skiing like I love to ski, I’m not in shape to do that, so I’d be stupid to do it,” she laughs. “You have to think logically. But it’s fun to talk about.

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