Smetanina began her Olympic journey in 1976 by taking a silver medal in the 5km race, missing a gold medal by just over one second. The next day she won the 10km by less than a second over Helena Takalo. She gained a second gold medal as a member of the USSR's 4x5km relay team. In 1980 Smetanina won the 5km race and added a silver in the relay. In 1984, she earned two silver medals and in 1988 a silver and a bronze. At the 1992 Winter Games, Smetanina won a final gold medal in the relay. Less than two weeks shy of her 40th birthday, she became the oldest female medallist in the history of the Olympic Winter Games.