The clips are old and yellowed, but they bear the datelines of athletic history: Oslo, St. Moritz, St. Anton, Austria, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. And the stories they tell are of Olympic triumphs by two American woman, triumphs long ago, and apparently by some, long forgotten.
"Housewife Wins First U.S. Ski Medal," headlined the dispatch of Feb. 5, 1948, from St. Moritz, Switzerland. "A pretty western housewife, her pigtails flying, plummeted down a zig-zag Alpine snow course today to accomplish something no American had ever done before her--win a medal in an Olympic skiing event against Europe's masters," wrote Ted Smits of the Associated Press.
"Mrs. Gretchen Fraser, the 28-year-old Vancouver, Wash., star . . . scored her unprecedented personal triumph by placing second in the women's Alpine combined ski test, in which she was edged out of first place by Trude Beiser of Austria by the nearly invisible margin of 37 one-hundredths of a point."
Four years later, Ted Smits was filing from the Oslo Olympics and on Feb. 14, 1952, he wrote this story: "America's 19-year-old wizard of the flashing skis (writers got away with a lot in 1948), Mrs. Andrea Mead Lawrence, sped to victory in the women's giant slalom today to send the United States off to a roaring start in the sixth winter Olympic games.
"It was the first gold medal of these famous snow and ice games and it topped off America's greatest Olympic ski showing in history."
Four days later, Smits filed this report from the Oslo games: "America's 19-year-old ski queen, Andrea Mead Lawrence, picked herself out of the snow after a jarring tumble in the Olympic slalom today and staged an incredible comeback to win her second gold medal of the winter games.
"The victory--believed impossible after the daring Rutland, Vt., housewife skidded and fell on the first of two runs down Rodkleiva's hazardous slope --climaxed the greatest showing in history for a United States ski team in the Olympics.
"The tall, slender New Englander became the first American skier, man or woman, to win two Olympic titles and she established herself as the world's greatest in her specialty."
What brings this Olympic history lesson to mind was a lead filed from Lake Tahoe, Calif., that appeared in the Sports section of this newspaper yesterday. "Jimmie Heuga was 20 years old when he won an Olympic bronze medal on a snow-covered Austrian alp. It was 1964 and the United States had never before won an Olympic medal in skiing. Heuga and teammate Billy Kidd, who earned a silver medal on the same slalom course at Innsbruck, gave America its first international claim to mountains in winter."
"It goes on constantly," said Gretchen Fraser yesterday from her home in Sun Valley, Idaho, suggesting that the fault lies more with sports history, which has obscured women's achievements, than with individual writers.
"They were only the first men. I was the first woman when I won the silver in 1948. Two days later, I won the gold medal. That was the first gold medal in skiing an American won. No American man has won a gold medal yet."
Why does it happen? "I don't know," she says. "I suppose it was the fact it was done in 1948. It always amazes me they don't do their homework and do it more accurately." One writer, she says, described her as having produced two children and gone into oblivion. This is Gretchen Fraser's oblivion:
She has spent 27 years on the board of a rehabilitation center, she started the first amputee ski club in the United States, she has 2,700 hours of airplane pilot-command time and does things like instrument landings. She shows her own horses and spent six years on the U.S. equestrian team's board and has been active in financing junior skiing, which is the level that produces Olympic teams.
"I play in a few golf tournaments. I still fly and I fish and I still ride horses," she says, "but I'm 63 now."
Fraser thinks her accomplishments may be overlooked, in part, because skiing, including women's skiing, takes "much greater precedence in Europe." Her accomplishments are also overlooked, undoubtedly, because women's sports have never received the kind of attention men's have.
"It's forgotten," she says of the women's gold medals. The males get credit for "firsts" that they don't deserve and the women who were the first to win Olympic medals in skiing get written out of history.
Gentlemen, give them a break.