Sapporo 1972

The 1972 Olympic Winter Games were held in Sapporo, Japan, under the pristine shadow of Mount Eniwa. They were the first Winter Games to be held in Asia and the first to be held outside of Europe or the United States. The Soviet Union was to prove the strongest team, winning eight gold medals, double the total of any other nation at the Games.

The subject of amateurism stirred controversy when the IOC threw Karl Schranz, Austria’s alpine skiing hero, out of the Games. The IOC banned him because he received payment from product manufacturers for appearing in advertisements. Furious, the Austrian team pulled out altogether, then re-entered at Schranz’s urging.

Galina Kulakova of the Soviet Union entered all three cross-country races for women and finished first in all of them. She won the 5km and 10km individual events and anchored the Soviet relay team to victory. Adrianus "Ard" Schenk of the Netherlands convincingly won three golds in speed skating in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m events, setting two new Olympic records.

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Australia at these Games

Australia sent a team of four team members to the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo. Malcolm Milne, one of Australia’s greatest Winter Olympians, was expected to do well in Sapporo, but suffered a cartilage injury to his left knee. This almost caused him to withdraw. He later called his Olympic downhill race “my worst ever”. In fact, he recovered superbly from a near-fall, dragging his arm in the snow to maintain his balance. In doing so, he lost over two seconds, which cost him any chance of a high placing. He finished 23rd.

After Sapporo, Milne turned professional for two years, joining a troupe formed by French triple gold medallist Jean-Claude Killy which specialised in parallel-course head-to-head racing. He then retired, later comparing Australia’s attempts to beat the Europeans at winter sports as the same as Austria trying to beat the Aussie Test team at cricket. 

Milne’s success over a number of European seasons raised the standard of winter sports in Australia and encouraged the Australian Ski Federation to find the money to send a number of young hopefuls to Europe.

The three other Australians in Sapporo were alpine skier Steven Clifford, whose best result was 36th in the giant slalom; and speed skaters James Lynch and Colin Coates. The best skating result was an 18th place for Coates in the 10,000m event.