Laurie and Kathy: the competitive Kreiners

Two sisters from Timmins who take on the world’s best skiers — including each other

JACK BATTEN December 1 1974

Laurie and Kathy: the competitive Kreiners

Two sisters from Timmins who take on the world’s best skiers — including each other

JACK BATTEN December 1 1974

Laurie and Kathy: the competitive Kreiners

Two sisters from Timmins who take on the world’s best skiers — including each other

JACK BATTEN

Kathy Kreiner wasn’t supposed to win the giant slalom that afternoon last January. After all. the conditions on the course in the mountains of Pfronten, West Germany, conjured up all kinds of threatening obstacles; rain had fallen, making the footing slippery and treacherous, and the course’s 46 gates were set in tight, tricky, diabolical positions. But even if the weather and the hills had been heavenly, nobody would have expected much from Kathy Kreiner. an unknown 16-year-old kid out of Timmins. Ontario, not when this particular giant slalom was a World Cup race in which the best international women skiers could pile up points toward the year’s ultimate individual championship, not when the field took in such wonder women of the schussing world as Austria’s Annemarie Moser-Proell. already established as the star of the circuit, and the U.S.’s Barbara Cochran. North America’s best bet to challenge the reigning Europeans. Kathy Kreiner a winner? Somebody has got to be kidding. Better you should bet on her sister, the other Kreiner from Timmins, Laurie, who is 19, also a member of Canada’s National Team and more experienced in this skiing business.

But Kathy Kreiner won. She thundered through the 46 gates in a style so swashbuckling, so vivid and convincing that she effectively obliterated the Moser-Proells and the Cochrans and all the other hotshots. She finished in front of the runner-up by a full second, an astoundingly wide margin in the close competition of international racing.

“The way Kathy won today,” Don Lyon, the Canadian women’s coach, said that afternoon, “it was just like Nancy Greene did it when she was taking medals for Canada.”

A little more than a month later Kathy and the rest of the Canadian team are in St. Moritz, Switzerland, for the Fédération Internationale de Ski world championships, the biggest event of the skiing year. Such worthies as the Shah of Iran and Pierre Trudeau and countless countesses and unnumbered

millionaires have gathered in the ancient, blasé, incredibly monied village for the races and other pleasures. But this time another Wunderkind, 17-yearold Fabienne Serrat of France, wins the giant slalom, and Annemarie MoserProell, back on top, takes the downhill. Where is Kathy? She is over there in that snowbank. She fell during the giant slalom. She collapsed into the snow, and now she is crying her heart out.

“What happened to me after Pfronten?” Kathy speculated many months later, talking in the comfortable and cluttered Kreiner family living room in Timmins. “Well, the thing is when you win one race, everybody thinks you’ll do it all the time. Until 1 won, hardly anybody paid any attention to my finishes. Then all of a sudden everybody was all over me. I got nervous. 1 started to fall in races. I didn’t know how to get over it. All I could do was keep giving myself pep talks.”

A Canadian journalist who traveled on the European ski circuit through all of 1974 amplified on Kathy’s dilemma: “The pressure from her win temporarily destroyed Kathy. Up to then, she’d been on a free ride. Nobody expected her to do anything remarkable at her age. Then she won, and the TV cameras and reporters and fans came descending on her. That got to her emotionally. Her next two races were washouts, and at St. Moritz, she hit the bottom.”

The strange and sad companion to this troubling story is that Laurie Kreiner, Kathy’s older sister, was suffering her own traumas through the ’74 racing season. The two girls share much in common, especially in physical characteristics; both have monotone voices, smallish but clear and fiery eyes, sharp noses, bright complexions, quick smiles and — the physical characteristic that identifies all skiers — strikingly powerful thighs. But emotionally and intellectually they go separate routes. You can read some of the difference in their smiles, shy for Laurie, a burst of instant insouciance for Kathy. The younger Kreiner is the brash one. It’s Laurie who

tends to introspection, who seals herself into worried non-communication, and that side of her character helped lead to grief last racing season.

“I expected a lot out of myself in 1974,” Laurie explained in Timmins at the end of the season. “I’d finished fourth in the giant slalom at the Olympics in ’72, and the next year had been my most consistent ever. But last season the wins just didn’t come the way I thought they should. 1 couldn’t get untracked or something. And in a thing as rough as international racing, once you’re not doing well, it’s easy to get down on yourself. Nobody gets down on me more than I do.”

Yet another factor was at work in Laurie’s troubles: sibling rivalry. The Canadian journalist emphasizes that point: “One reason Laurie did so poorly is because Kathy did so well. You have to understand that underneath everything the two girls are extremely competitive. They go against one another in everything — in training, in motorbike races for fun, especially in skiing — and when Kathy won the giant slalom in Germany it really got to Laurie, the older one in the family, that she hadn’t won a gold medal first.”

Laurie: “You can build yourself up or tear yourself down. I did the second.”

Perhaps no one except another racer can grasp exactly what travails Laurie, and Kathy too, went through, but it helps a non-racer understand the situation if he first comprehends the nature of (a) skiing as a competitive sport and (b) Europe as an international ski circuit.

Ski racing, unlike a lot of other competitive sports, leaves little room for strategy or speculation. Consider, for example, that in winning at Pfronten « Kathy Kreiner shot down half a mountain and through 46 gates in one minute, * 20.43 seconds, hardly time enough for a o few deep breaths, let alone deep > thoughts. And consider Laurie Kreiner’s § analysis of a slalom: “When you ski a * slalom race, you get out on the course £ and you just do it. There’s nothing in it l

For Canada’s skiers the rewards are small

about thinking.” Skiing, in short, is a matter of instinct, of ferocious (not to mention courageous) rushes at hard, fast, often icy, always dangerous patches of snow. The races are swift, and they end in sudden, almost invisible climaxes. And for Canadian skiers, the rewards are miniscule, measured against the enormous investment of dedication and time in preparation. Unlike the European stars, who get rich in under-thetable payments, the Canadians settle for pieces of medal that are colored gold, silver and bronze. Competitive skiers? They’re a driven breed.

As for the European circuit, it isn’t all champagne and hobnobbing with the skiing jet set. In fact, hardly any of it is.

‘T loved the racing, but I hated everything else in between,” is the way Judy Crawford puts it: she’s a dark, attractive young woman who retired last spring after six years on Canada’s National Team. “It isn’t really a natural life, and it certainly isn’t glamorous, traveling and living Out of a suitcase for four or five months at a time. I missed all the ordinary things like going to a movie when I felt like it or dropping in on friends. It’s a rigid life, very regimented by coaches and training and things, artificial in a way.”

The way the Kreiner sisters deal with the hassles of the circuit is by applying to them a no-nonsense, blunt outlook that they no doubt acquired in their hometown. Timmins is a raw mining city that sits in the bush like an accident halfway between Lake Huron and James Bay. Its people, like its architecture, tend to a simple and solid style. But one route out of the bleak life the city promises lies through the wilderness that creeps right up to Timmins’ back doors. The Kreiner girls chose that path.

“From the time they were little kids, they spent all their time in the bush,” the girls’ mother says. Mrs. Kreiner is a casual, rumpled, likable woman who has filled the Kreiner house with her own brightly colored primitive paintings. “They used to trap rabbits and go swimming in Gillies Lake just behind our house. They made friends with the deer, and they loved camping out.”

Skiing was their father’s inspiration. He is Dr. Harold Kreiner, and he moved to Timmins 24 years ago from southern Ontario to set up a medical practice and raise his six children (Laurie and Kathy are the youngest). A ski fan (he served as the National Team’s official doctor at the 1968 Olympics) and fairly well-todo, Dr. Kreiner was one of the leaders

“I’ll stay at skiing until I win,” says Laurie Kreiner, brimming with new confidence. “Then I’ll win some more”

in grooming Mount Kamiskotia, 12 miles north of town, into a usable ski hill. The “mountain” hardly measures up to international standards since its vertical drop is a mere 350 feet, about one quarter the size of a competitive hill, but as Laurie says, “It’s a great place for a young kid to start on and it’s where Kathy and I learned not to be afraid.”

The girls turned out to be naturals at the sport, and as early as 1969 Laurie stunned Canadian ski officials by winning a race in the Canadian Championships at Whistler Mountain in BC. She was a mere 14. She joined the Canadian team touring in Europe in 1970, and while she was away Kathy took over the role back home of the kid who stunned the ski world. Her Canadian victories earned her a spot on the European touring team in 1971, and the following season both girls competed in the Olympics at Sapporo where Laurie had her finest moment, missing a bronze medal in the giant slalom by an eyelash. After Sapporo and after strong showings in ’73 came the 1974 season with its one impossible high and its plunging lows. It was for both girls, though probably more for Laurie, a year to test whatever qualities — courage, endurance, determination — make a world skier. Were the Kreiners driven enough to be great?

After her troubles, Laurie turned for therapy to Al Raine. He is Nancy Greene’s husband, a former Alpine skiing program director for the National Team, and, as the Canadian journalist puts it, “Raine’s the one person who seems to be able to get inside Laurie’s head.” Raine flew to Europe to offer guidance to Laurie, and at the end of the season he and his wife took Laurie for a week of relaxed skiing and informal coaching at their place in BC’s massive hills, the Bugaboos. The treatment apparently worked.

“Out there,” Laurie says, “I got the fun back into skiing. Now I can look at things differently. I can wipe out last season and get back to winning.”

Kathy’s job of rehabilitation was more visible. Her self-administered pep talks took effect and, back in North America late last winter after the European meets, she registered a victory in the Canadian championships at Mansonville, Quebec, and came up with a respectable showing, as did Laurie, in races at Vail, Colorado. Kathy finished the year with 70 World Cup points, the highest of all Canadian women and tied for ninth overall among the world’s women skiers. “Nothing like what hap-

pened to Laurie, having almost a whole year go bad, has ever happened to me,” Kathy said in Timmins. “I get better every year.”

And Laurie’s attitude has now assumed the same confident ring. “I’ll stay at skiing until I win,” she says. “Then I’ll win some more.”

All of which indicates that the Krei-

ners promise big things, especially medals colored gold, silver and bronze, on the European ski circuit this winter. Can they deliver? For a hint of an answer, think back to the January afternoon in Pfronten, West Germany, when the kid nobody knew much about wiped out all those wonder women of the international circuit. V?