Remembering Andrea Lawrence

Andrea Lawrence was a Sierra hero.  The Sierra Fund will miss her!

From the New York Times
By Douglas Martin
Published April 1, 2009

Andrea Mead Lawrence, who as a 19-year-old newlywed at the 1952 Olympics rocketed down the Norwegian slopes to win two gold medals in Alpine skiing, a feat unmatched by any American, died Tuesday at her home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. She was 76.

The cause was cancer that had spread throughout her body, her daughter Quentin said.

Lawrence, known as Andy, seized national attention by skiing at the age of 15 in the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Articles about her were as likely to mention her pigtails, blue-gray eyes and stylish knickerbockers as to describe her spectacular 60-mile-an-hour turns. Life magazine said of her in 1947 that her “only interest in boys is how well they ski.” By 1952 she was married to David Lawrence, a former United States giant slalom champion, and was on her way to the Olympics in Oslo.

Before she got there, hopes ran so high that she was on the cover of Time magazine. She had won 10 of 16 races she entered in 1951, including the Arlberg-Kandahar downhill race, then the unofficial world championship.

In the Oslo Olympics, Lawrence won the giant slalom, but she fell in the first of two runs in the slalom six days later. She was in fourth place as she waited in the starting gate to begin her second run.

In future years, people would ask how she felt at that moment and in the ensuing 1 minute 3.4 seconds, during which she beat the world’s best women on skis to win her second gold medal.

“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 an interview with The San Jose Mercury News in 2002. “In a way, the second run was a perfect run. There are few times in our lives where we become the thing we’re doing.”

The New York Herald Tribune said that Lawrence’s dual victory “epitomizes the United States coming of age in international skiing competition.”

It was the first and only time an American skier had won two gold medals in an Olympics, and it would be 20 years before an American skier, Barbara Cochran, won even one. This year, Lindsey Vonn became the first American woman since Lawrence to win two gold medals in a single world championship.

Lawrence, a native of Vermont, suggested in an interview last month with The Rutland Herald that the achievements were not exactly equal.

“Maybe it’s generational,” she said, “but I think two gold medals in the Olympics are different than two gold medals at the worlds.”

In 2002, Bud Greenspan, a filmmaker known for his Olympic documentaries, chose Lawrence as “the greatest Winter Olympian of all time.” He based his choice on her later civic efforts in California as well as on the sheer excitement of her second victory in 1952.

Andrea Bario Mead was born in Rutland on April 19, 1932, to Bradford and Janet Mead, owners of the Pico Peak ski resort, who introduced her to skiing at the age of 3. Annual spring trips to Switzerland were family musts, and Andrea learned by imitating a Swiss ski professional whom her parents brought to Vermont when she was 6. She had no formal lessons.

Her parents reared Andrea and her brother, Peter, under a principle the children heartily supported: “If the weather’s good, you ski; if it’s bad, you go to school.”

Andrea competed in her first slalom at 10. The next year she was named to the Women’s Eastern Ski Team, captained by her mother, and placed eighth in a slalom race. At 14, she qualified for the Olympic tryouts, and at 15 she was on the American team.

Her parents asked older team members to chaperone her at the 1948 Games in St. Moritz. She finished 21st in the combined event and 35th in the downhill.

In 1949, she won all the women’s events at the women’s national meet and qualified for the national team. But she struggled in 1950. Coaches suggested she take a year off, but Lawrence instead focused on having fun skiing. She dominated women’s skiing the next year.

She married David Lawrence in 1951 and gave birth to the third of their five children just four months before competing in the 1956 Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

She and Lawrence divorced in 1967. Andrea Lawrence is survived by her sons, Cortlandt and Matthew; her daughters, Deirdre, Leslie and Quentin; and four grandchildren.

Lawrence was a member of the Aspen, Colo., planning board before she moved to Mammoth Lakes, where she was elected a Mono County supervisor. She fought to preserve the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains through planning that balanced nature against real estate and tourism. In 2003, she founded the nonprofit Andrea Lawrence Institute for Mountains and Rivers to push conservation.

“God did not make the eastern Sierra Nevada as a lot-and-block subdivision,” she said.