J. ashworth, 80, speedskating Olympian
Jeanne Ashworth, who arrived at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, in the first group of women to compete in speedskating at any Olympics and won a bronze medal in the 500- meter race, died Oct. 4 at her home in Wilmington, New York, near Lake Placid. She was 80.
Her longtime partner, Christine Lefevre, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Ashworth had won several speedskating championships in the United States when she arrived at the outdoor Olympic skating rink in Squaw Val
ley on Feb. 20, 1960. She was nervous, having spent a sleep
less night wondering whether Russian women would sweep the four women’s races.
“Remember,” her mother, Alberta, told her, “they’re only human beings.”
In a race in which the skaters compete against each other in pairs, Ashworth and a competitor went ninth. She had to better the earlier results of Helga Haase of Germany, who finished at 45.9 seconds, and Natalia Donchenko of the Soviet Union, whose time was 46.0 seconds.
“I remember I was on a kind of magic carpet,” Ashworth told The Lowell Sun in 2010. “About 10 seconds from the finish, I kind of hesitated and struggled to the end. It took about two- tenths of a second off” — the difference between a bronze and gold medal.
Her time, 46.1 seconds, earned her the bronze. She was the only U. S. woman to win a speedskating medal at Squaw Valley.
Ashworth helped move women toward an equal footing with men in speedskating. The sport had been an allmale domain since it was introduced at the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France. Women’s speedskating was given so- called demonstration sport status at the 1932 Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York, but those results did not count.
She was not done at Squaw Valley after the 500- meter race. She competed in three other events — she earned no other medals — but was pleased with her overall performance.
“It was all so lucky because I didn’t know too much about what I was doing,” she said, summarizing her success in an interview with Lake Placid News in 2016. “I just went out and skated fast.”