CBC Digital Archives

Lucille Wheeler, Canada's first ski champion

Throughout history, "ladies" were discouraged from participating in team sports because it was thought competition would lead to "manly" behaviours. But thanks to pioneering athletes such as Bobbie Rosenfeld, Nancy Greene and Hayley Wickenheiser, young women now have the freedom to participate and excel in any sport — be it track, skiing or hockey. These women not only excelled in their chosen fields but were instrumental in shattering stereotypes of the female athlete.

Greatness in skiing is often determined by how well you stack up against the Europeans. Few have fared well in that respect, but a select group of Canadians have managed to compete successfully against the best the world has to offer. CBC Digital Archives takes a look back at names like Wheeler, Heggtveit, Greene, and of course the remarkable "Crazy Canucks."

It's February 1958, and 23-year-old Lucille Wheeler has become the first Canadian to win a gold medal in skiing. In fact, she has won two gold medals, one in downhill and another in giant slalom, at the FIS (International Ski Federation) world championships in Badgastein, Austria. A month later, she returns home to Montreal a national hero. CBC Radio catches up with her at the airport and asks about her reaction to learning she had won the downhill. "Well, I think we found it hard to believe for a couple of days," Wheeler explains. "And I think one of the first things I remarked to Pepi, my trainer, was that I was lucky. And he said, 'well, with so many good ones in the race, to win, he says, you have to be lucky on a day.'"
• At the 1958 FIS World Ski Championships, Lucille Wheeler became the first North American and non-European (man or woman) to win a world championship ski title. She was one of two big winners overall. The other was Toni Sailer of Austria in the men's division. Sailer won three gold medals and a silver medal, while Wheeler won two gold medals and a silver medal. Her silver came in the combined event (which consists of one downhill run followed by two slalom runs). In the women's division, Frieda Dänzer of Switzerland captured a gold, silver and bronze, and beat Wheeler in the combined event. Wheeler's spectacular performance allowed Canada to place third in the medals standings, behind Austria's nine medals and Switzerland's seven. Wheeler accounted for all of Canada's medals.

• Wheeler won a bronze medal in downhill at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. She became the first North American (man or woman) to earn a medal in the Olympic downhill.

• In 1958, Wheeler received the Lou Marsh trophy as Canada's athlete of the year and the Bobbi Rosenfeld trophy and Canada's top female athlete. She was also inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. In 1976, she was made a member of the Order of Canada and in 1982 she was inducted into the Canadian Skiing Hall of Fame.

• Wheeler was born Jan. 14, 1935 in the village of Sainte-Jovite, Que., in the Laurentian mountains. According to Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, she was taught to ski at age two and at the age of 10, she finished seventh in a downhill ski event at Mont Tremblant, Que. that was open to skiers of all ages. In 1947, at age 12, she won the national junior downhill and combined championship, and at 14 was selected to the Canadian ski team for the 1950 world championships in Aspen, Colo.

• In the mid-1950s sportswriter Ted Reeve dubbed Wheeler the "Ste. Jovite bon-bombe".

• In 1960 she married CFL Hall of Famer Kaye Vaughan, and the couple had two children.

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: March 12, 1958
Guest: Lucille Wheeler
Reporter: Russ Taylor
Duration: 3:22

Last updated: September 20, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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