Remembering Lawrence’s Double Gold in 1952

Tom Kelly
2016-10-13 13:55

From its humble beginnings in 1967, the New York Ski Ball has become more than just a fundraiser, establishing itself as a pivotal cultural event in the Olympic sport. Over the years, hundreds of Olympic skiers and snowboarders have graced the stage of some of New York’s most notable venues from the Plaza, Pierre and Waldorf hotels, to the Hammerstein Ballroom, Cipriani and even the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid. This October, all 31 of the Olympic champions or their descendants are invited to New York City to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Foundation’s New York Gold Medal Gala. Prior to the event, we explore some of the greatest stories about skiing and snowboarding’s gold medalists throughout the years.

Teenager Andrea Mead Lawrence stood in the Olympic slalom start gate in Oslo in 1952. It was the second run and the 19 year old from Vermont's Pico Peak was in fourth – devastated by a fall in the first run. Already with a gold medal from the debut Olympic giant slalom six days earlier, she could easily have counted her blessings and just hoped for a bronze. But that was not her style.

Mead grew up on the mountain at Pico, outside of Rutland, VT, at her parent's ski area. She was a determined young woman who discovered ski racing on a test run down the Lake Placid downhill at the age of 10. By 14, she was racing internationally. And on this day in Norway, she was not about to settle for second, much less third or fourth. In the next minute and 3.4 seconds, she skied a run that will never be matched, leaping to gold and becoming a double Olympic champion.

Andrea Mead Lawrence and her husband after she won gold in 1952. (Getty Images-Bettmann) 

"When I took off for the second run, I was released as the full force and energy of who I am as a person," she said. "In a way, the second run was a perfect run. There are few times in our lives where we actually become the thing we’re doing."

She had made her Olympic debut at 15, four years earlier when teammate Gretchen Fraser won silver in combined and gold in slalom. Mead’s gold in slalom made it three straight over two Olympics for the American women in the new technical events. Four years later, Mead was again in the Olympic start gate in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, narrowly missing a medal, finishing fourth in GS.

She went on to be a role model for future champions, like young Penny Pitou who medaled in 1960. After settling in Mammoth Mountain, CA, she became an active environmentalist. She was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1958 and was later named to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, just days after her death in 2009.

Lawrence skis in the 1952 Olympics. (Getty Images-Bettmann)

But one of the greatest recognitions of her dramatic accomplishments as an Olympian came from noted filmmaker and documentarian Bud Greenspan who put her atop his list of greatest Olympians of all time in 2002, who stated:

"Andrea personified the Greek concept of the ideal athlete – excellence both in body and mind. It is indeed rare to find someone who throughout her life pursued two passions in the purest and highest form of the human spirit."

The late Andrea Mead Lawrence will be on among the Olympic gold medalists being honored at the New York Gold Medal Gala on its 50th anniversary, with her daughter Didi Lawrence to be on hand.