Friday, April 3, 2009

Olympic champion Andrea Mead Lawrence dies

Double gold medalist in 1952 at Oslo

Gretchen Fraser and Andrea Mead Lawrence at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo

Sun Valley's Gretchen Fraser won America's first skiing gold medal in 1948, but Vermont native Andrea Mead Lawrence became perhaps this country's greatest Olympic champion four years later.

Lawrence, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in 1952, died Tuesday at her home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. She was 76. Cause of death was cancer, The New York Times reported.

She won two gold medals, in giant slalom and slalom, at the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympic Games in Norway. To this day, her feat remains the only time an American skier has won two gold medals in an Olympics.

This year, two-time World Cup overall women's queen Lindsey Vonn became the first U.S. woman since Lawrence to win two gold medals in a single world championship.

A three-time Olympian, "Andy" Lawrence played a pivotal role in establishing the U.S. as an alpine power against the traditional Europeans and Scandinavians. Her incredible 1951 season, in which she won 10 of 16 races she entered, boosted American hopes for the 1952 Winter Olympics. She made the cover of Time magazine before the trip to Oslo.

Having won the giant slalom gold, Lawrence also took slalom gold by winning the second of two runs by a remarkable two seconds—after she had fallen in the first. Her effort, later described by Lawrence as "a perfect run," earned her recognition in 2002 by noted Olympic film producer Bud Greenspan as his "greatest Winter Olympian of all time."

Lawrence, who at age 15 joined Fraser at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, made it three Olympics in 1956, finishing fourth, just one spot away from a bronze, in Cortina.


Born at Rutland, Vt., the daughter of Pico Peak owners Bradford and Janet Mead, she grew up skiing at Pico Peak and became known for her pigtails and speed on skis.

She married David Lawrence in 1951. They had five children, all surviving, and were divorced in 1967. In later years, Lawrence served in government capacities in both Aspen, Colo. and Mammoth Lakes, and was well known as a conservationist. Six years ago she founded the non-profit Andrea Lawrence Institute for Mountains and Rivers.

Ketchum resident Betty Bell raced with Lawrence on the 1952 Olympic ski team.

"From the time we assembled as a team, it was apparent that Andy, the youngest, was our best," Bell said. "And a gracious best she was. The qualities that come to mind when I remember Andy are her ever-so-quiet demeanor, her total seriousness and commitment, and her graciousness. The medals didn't change her."

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt called Lawrence "one of the most respected champions of all time."

"As just a teenager, she led by her example of perseverance in never giving up," Marolt said. "Nearly a half century later, she remains a distinguished role model for today's athletes."

Throughout her life, Lawrence has remained one of America's foremost advocates for her sport and the Olympics, stated a U.S. Ski Team press release issued Tuesday.

She was inducted in the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1958 and was recently nominated by the USSA for consideration for the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

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