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She is the first woman to win 10 medals in her career. She is also the first athlete to step onto the podium at five editions of the Olympic Winter Games, and is one of only three Olympians to have won silver medals five times.
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.