Sharing a bond of ski racing, 2 Canadian Olympians have remained fast friends for nearly 80 years


This wasn’t just a dinner between two friends of nearly 80 years. It was a rare and unexpected opportunity to catch up in person last November at the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame banquet.

A chance to reminisce about ski racing, their longtime bond, and family. To stroll down memory lane.

The tableside chat felt just like old times for Rhoda Wurtele Eaves, 102, and Lucile Wheeler, 89, who’ve been fixtures in each other’s lives since they first met on Jan. 14, 1945, at a downhill race.

Wheeler remembers the exact meeting since it happened also to be her first ski race and her 10th birthday. She was in awe of Wurtele Eaves and her twin sister, Rhona, who died in 2020. Back then, the sisters took Wheeler under their wing.

A mentorship blossomed into a lifelong camaraderie filled with ski reunions and golf outings.

“Rhoda and Rhona paved the pathway for future Canadian ski racers, always willing to help out and offer advice when asked,” Wheeler said in an email. “Their commitment and passion for the sport transferred to the younger ones coming up.”

Wurtele Eaves was a surprise participant at the hall of fame banquet in November. Her arrival completed a reunion of all four members of the 1952 Canadian women’s Olympic ski team at the dinner. She joined Rosemarie Schutz Asch, Joanne Hewson-Rees and Wheeler.

“When the organizers of the event realized we were all together, they were overwhelmed,” Wheeler said, noting that two weeks later Hewson-Rees passed away at 93. “Our reunion became even more special.”

The Wurtele sisters were known as the “Flying Twins” — pioneers of women’s skiing in Canada. As kids, they skied anywhere they could, with their dad sliding them all over local parks and hills near Montreal. They looked alike and skied identical, with a fearless determination on a course. They soon took ski racing by storm, winning or placing in race after race, from Quebec to Utah to New York.

Their dominance certainly captured the attention of a young Wheeler, who shared a coach with the sisters.

“Rhoda was my mentor, and always encouraged me. Friends for 79 years,” said Wheeler, a 1956 Olympic downhill bronze medalist who married Canadian Football League Hall of Famer Kaye Vaughan.

Wheeler and Wurtele Eaves were roommates at the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo, when Wheeler was just 17 and Rhoda the senior member of their Alpine team.

“I was like her shadow,” Wheeler recounted. “She showed me all the ropes.”

Their Olympic experience connected them even more.

“It is a heart-warming story,” Christophe Dubi, the executive director of the Olympic Games, wrote in an email as the Winter Olympics celebrated its 100th anniversary. “Rhoda and Lucile’s continued friendship personifies Olympism and everything that makes the Olympic Games, and sport in general, so unique.”

Wheeler’s best finish at the 1952 Olympics was 26th in the slalom (Wurtele Eaves was 19th). Four years later, Wheeler earned the first Olympic medal by a Canadian Alpine ski racer with her bronze in the downhill.

“Returning to our Olympic team accommodations, the greeting was joyous,” recalled Wheeler, who was inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1982 along with the Wurtele sisters. “Made me realize that I had ‘opened the door’ for others to follow through.”

For the Wurtele sisters, the path to the Olympics was filled with cancellations, bumps and broken bones. They were in the prime of their careers heading into the 1944 Winter Games. But they were called off due to World War II.

Then, right before the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Wurtele Eaves broke her ankle when a teammate accidentally skied into her at the bottom of the hill. Her twin sister wiped out in a practice and suffered a cut on her head. Rhona recovered enough to compete in the downhill but crashed. She got up, though, and finished the race.

The sisters inspired the next generation of ski racers, teaching for more than 50 years.

“We lived near each other. Our husbands and all our children were ski instructors. In the summer golf was the thing,” Wurtele Eaves said in an email through her son, David Eaves. “When you do many activities together it’s basically a happy family.”

Wurtele Eaves skied for the final time at 96, on a cross-country trail at Mont Tremblant in Quebec. She still feels connected to the sport through tales told to her by her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.

Wheeler stayed heavily involved in ski racing, too, making instructional videos and organizing youth programs. Simply trying to inspire future racers — just like her longtime mentor and friend, Wurtele Eaves.

“Friendships such as Rhoda and Lucile’s really demonstrate the harmony and unity that is uniquely created at the Olympic Games,” Dubi said. “It has been really inspiring to hear about their bond, spanning nearly 80 years.”

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AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympicsAP



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