Host City: Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
Venue(s): Snow Stadium, Cortina d'Ampezzo
Date Started: February 1, 1956
Date Finished: February 1, 1956
Ten teams lined up for the start of a new Olympic event in cross-country skiing, the 3 x 5 km. relay for women. The event was first contested at the FIS World Championships at Falun in 1954, with the Soviet Union as the gold medal winners ahead of Finland and Sweden. The Soviet team in Cortina looked unbeatable on paper, consisting of the skiers placing first, second and fourth in the 10 km. one week before. The Finnish team had the same lineup as the silver medal winning team in 1954.
The Soviets had put their 10 km. Olympic Champion Lyubov Kozyreva on the first leg, and at the first exchange the Soviet Union was in the lead as expected, 24 seconds ahead of Sirkka Polkunen of Finland, with Norway 20 seconds further back. On the second leg, Mirja Hietamies was surprisingly able to gain 18 seconds on Alevtina Kolchina and was only six seconds behind at the exchange. Anna-Lisa Eriksson brought Sweden to the heels of Norway, only one second back, but the two teams were already over two minutes behind the leaders and out of contention for the gold medal. The final leg developed into a thrilling duel between Siiri Rantanen of Finland and the Soviet’s Radiya Yeroshina. Rantanen caught Yeroshina early and took over the lead, but Yeroshina fought back and regained the lead. In the final stage of the race Rantanen was the strongest, passing Yeroshina 1,800 metres from the finish, and won a most surprising gold medal, 27 seconds ahead of the USSR. Sweden’s bronze medalist from the individual race, Sonja Edström, had no problems, recording the fastest leg of the competition, and overtaking Norway’s Rakel Wahl to take the bronze, over a minute ahead of the Norwegian team. Poland was the best of the remaining six European teams, placing fifth.