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01 Feb 1956
Cortina d'Ampezzo 1956

Kozyreva strikes gold for Soviet sport

On the morning of 28 January 1956, Lyubov Kozyreva, competing in the women’s 10km cross country skiing event, became the first Soviet athlete to win a gold medal at the Winter Games.

Kozyreva was already fancied to excel at the Games, having also recorded the first Nordic success for the Soviet Union at the 1954 World Championships in Falun (SWE).

At 26, she was in the form of her life, as were her Soviet team-mates. Radya Yeroshina set the pace with 38:16, before Alevtina Kolchina slotted into second position, 45 seconds back. Kozyreva set off shortly afterwards, digging deep to top Yeroshina’s time by five seconds. A memorable Soviet treble looked on the cards when one of the final skiers to depart, Sonja Edström (SWE), picked up the pace considerably in the closing stages to wrest the bronze medal from the hands of Kolchina.

Kozyreva, Kolchina and Yeroshina joined forces a few days later in the inaugural 3x5km, but were forced to settle for a silver medal behind a surprisingly efficient Finnish team, for which Mirja Hietamies and Siiri Rantanen were outstanding, transforming a 24-second deficit into an eventual 28-second advantage. Sweden subsequently came out on top of a closely contested battle for the bronze with Norway.

Kozyreva, who changed her surname to Baranova after marrying in 1960, enjoyed further Olympic success in Squaw Valley in 1960, picking up two silver medals in the 10km and 3x5km. By 1962, she had increased her World Championship medal haul to six gold medals and two silvers. After retiring from competition, she became coach of the Soviet Nordic skiing team.

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