Anne Heggtveit: A good night’s sleep brings Olympic gold

by Dalton Campbell

In 1960, Anne Heggtveit won Canada’s first Olympic gold in alpine skiing.

She was competing in the VIII Olympic Winter Games, in what is now Palisades Tahoe, California. In her first two races, the women’s giant slalom and the downhill, Anne had finished 12th. She said that the evening before the third race, the slalom, the other racers were out trying to familiarize themselves with the course, but she went back to her room to sleep. She thought that if she looked at the course that evening, she would become nervous and probably not sleep well. Her decision was the right one: she finished first, beating the silver medalist by more than 3 seconds, earning the gold in the slalom.

A young woman wearing a winter coat holding a medal in her left hand.

Anne Heggtveit with her Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing, 1960. The medal, at 55 mm in diameter, was one of the smallest awarded at the Winter Games. By comparison, since 2000, the smallest medal awarded at a Winter Olympics has been 85 mm in diameter. (a209759)

Following her extraordinary success at the Olympic Games, she surprised the sports world when she announced her retirement in March 1960. In an interview with the Globe and Mail later that year, she said that she would miss the sport and her friendships, but that she thought the years of preparation for the 1964 Olympics would be too much of an emotional strain. She discussed the importance of balancing confidence and recklessness when skiing. She also said, “When you stand at the top of that course, you can be scared stiff, you can feel you don’t care what happens to you, or you can suddenly feel the perfect mixture of emotions that can help you make a championship run.”

Her retirement, although a shock, was similar to that of her teammate Lucile Wheeler, who retired in 1958 after winning that season’s world slalom and downhill titles. In an interview in 2019 for The Canadian Encyclopedia, Anne described how Lucile had been a trailblazer, as one of the first Canadians to train in Europe. Anne learned from Lucile at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, where Lucile earned a bronze in the downhill and Anne had three top-30 finishes.

Anne’s 1960 Olympic results also gave her the Fédération internationale de ski (FIS) [International Ski Federation] world gold medal and the gold in Alpine combined. At the time, the FIS did not hold separate championships in Olympic years; instead, it awarded medals based on the Olympic results. This was her second FIS Alpine combined title. She also won in 1959.

In 1960, Anne received the Lou Marsh Award as Canadian athlete of the year and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her win was voted Canadian sports story of the year. Her medal was one of only four medals earned by the Canadian team.

Anne had an early start in skiing. Her father, who immigrated to Canada from Norway as a young man, was Canada’s cross-country ski champion in 1934, but was unable to raise money to go to the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Anne started skiing when she was two years of age and entered her first competition at five. From the age of 8, her goal was to win the Olympic gold medal.

She twice received the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s female athlete of the year (1959, 1960), was elected to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1971), and was awarded the Order of Canada (1976). After her retirement, Anne married, started a family and taught skiing, among other pursuits. In 1988, she was an Olympic flag bearer at the Calgary Olympics.

Further research


Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Private Archives Division.

2 thoughts on “Anne Heggtveit: A good night’s sleep brings Olympic gold

  1. Pingback: Anne Heggtveit: A good night’s sleep brings Olympic gold | Financial News Post

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