On 3 February 1964 at the IX Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, the Goitschel sisters achieved something remarkable. After a Christine-Marielle one-two finish in the slalom, the two French skiers, born in 1944 and 1945 respectively, repeated the feat in the giant slalom, but in reverse order, with Marielle finishing ahead of Christine. Other brothers and sisters have secured one-two finishes at the Winter Games, but never twice in a row. Today, we celebrate the anniversary of a remarkable piece of history.
There is just over a year between sisters Christine and Marielle Goitschel, who hail from Val-d’Isère in France: Christine, the elder of the two, was born on 9 June 1944, and Marielle was born on 28 September 1945. Both were gifted all-round skiers who broke into France’s Alpine skiing team in the early 1960s and were soon starring on the international scene, excelling in all three Alpine disciplines: slalom, giant slalom and downhill. Christine won the national slalom title in 1962, a year in which her younger sibling pocketed a slalom silver and a combined gold at the FIS World Championships in Chamonix.
Marielle kicked off the Olympic women’s slalom competition on 1 February 1964 at Axamer Lizum. Producing an explosive run on the 51-gate course, the 18-year-old stopped the clock in 43.09, a time that would go unbeaten, with sister Christine, who went out 14th, the only other skier to dip below the 44-second mark, with a time of 43.85.
In the second run, it was Christine’s turn to outpace the field, negotiating the 56-gate course 1.67 seconds faster than Marielle, in 46.01, to claim the Olympic title with a combined time of 1:29.86, beating her younger sister’s 1:30.77. The USA’s Jean Saubert took bronze behind them, with a time of 1:31.36. The Goitschels had achieved the very first one-two by sisters in Winter Games history. When Christine stepped up to the top of the podium, an emotional Marielle applauded wildly. And the two of them weren’t quite done yet…
Marielle beats Christine in the giant slalom
At Axamer Lizum two days later on 3 February, the giant slalom – a one-run event until the end of the 1960s – saw Christine lay down an early marker for the rest of the field. Skiing third, she posted a time of 1:53.11, which was later equalled by Saubert. The two were still out in front when Marielle, starting 14th, flew down the 56-gate course in an incredible 1:52.24 to snatch the title by 0.87 seconds, ahead of her sister and Saubert, who shared the silver medal. This completed a remarkable double for the French siblings, a feat unique in the history of the Winter Games.
At the time, the Games doubled up as the FIS World Championships, and Marielle was also crowned 1964 world champion in the combined, finishing 10th in the downhill on 6 February after medalling in the combined’s two technical events.
Sibling gold-silver doubles had been seen at the Winter Games before the Goitschels (the USA’s Jennison and John Heaton in the skeleton at St Moritz 1928) and have occurred since (the USA’s Phil and Steve Mahre in the slalom at Sarajevo 1984; Austria’s Doris and Angelika Neuner in the women’s luge singles at Albertville 1992; Switzerland’s Philipp and Simon Schoch in the giant parallel snowboard at Turin 2006; and Canada’s Justine and Chloé Dufour-Lapointe in the moguls at Sochi 2014), but never twice in a row. It remains to be seen whether such a feat will be repeated in any sport.
When she was later asked to name her highlight of the Innsbruck Games, Marielle replied, without a moment’s hesitation: “When Christine won the slalom and I came second. Even when I won the giant, I didn’t get as excited.” Christine added: “It was unique! It was the first time! They were the most wonderful two or three minutes of our lives. After that, it doesn’t belong to you anymore.”
Fifty years later, the younger Goitschel sibling said: “For people who don’t follow skiing anymore, the French champions are still Jean-Claude Killy and the Goitschel sisters. We were the first female French medallists at the Winter Games and were awarded the National Order of Merit by General De Gaulle himself.”
The Goitschel sisters were welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd on their return to Val-d’Isère.
They continued to enjoy success throughout the rest of the 1960s, starring in a French team that was at the peak of its considerable powers, with Marielle becoming her country’s most successful female Alpine skier of all time. After winning gold in the giant, combined and downhill at the 1966 FIS World Championships in Portillo (Chile), where she also won slalom silver behind her compatriot Annie Famose, she returned to the Olympic stage at Grenoble 1968, finally claiming the slalom gold that had eluded her four years earlier. After this success, she and triple gold medallist Jean-Claude Killy took part in a victory parade in their home town of Val d’Isère, in an open-top vehicle decorated with the Olympic rings, with thousands of fans in attendance.
Christine, who went on to marry her coach Jean Béranger, opened the ski resort of Val Thorens with her husband in the 1970s. And it was there, on 2 February 2014 – on the 50th anniversary of their golden achievement in Innsbruck – that the Goitschel sisters were made Officers of the Legion of Honour.