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.”

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