Kulakova strikes double gold
The USSR’s Galina Kulakova was the finest woman cross country skier in the world for much of the 1970s. And at Sapporo, she was in her absolute prime.
Kulakova, a physical education teacher, had made her Olympic debut four years earlier in Grenoble, coming away with an individual silver and a team bronze. However, it is for her exploits in 1972 that she will be best remembered, as she produced a golden clean sweep in the 5km, the 10km and the 3x5km relay.
In the 10km Kulakova took an early lead before gradually tightening her grip to clinch gold in dominant fashion. Her closest challenger, some 36 seconds back, was team-mate Alevtina Olunina-Smirnova.
The 5km proved a much tighter contest. This time the closest challenge came from Finland's Marjatta Kajosmaa, who had taken bronze over 10km, and who started last.
Less than seven seconds divided the first four athletes, with the unlucky Olyunina-Smirnova missing out on a bronze by just 0.08 seconds. Meanwhile Kulakova edged out Kajosmaa by five seconds to take her second Olympic title.
The relay saw Kulakova and Olyunina-Smirnova team up with Lyubov Mukhachova. They were a formidable trio, and established a clear lead from the first leg onwards. Kulakova, who was on the anchor leg, finished more than a minute clear of her closest rival.
Kulakova went on to win another relay gold four years later in Innsbruck, as well as a bronze in the 10km. And then at the age of 37, she added a relay silver at Lake Placid 1980. She retired from competition in 1982.