Host City: Innsbruck, Austria
Date Started: February 5, 1976
Date Finished: February 5, 1976
Participants: 165 (114 men and 51 women) from 24 countries
Youngest Participant: Gertrud Gasteiger (16 years, 98 days)
Oldest Participant: Walter Demel (40 years, 76 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): Helena Kivioja-Takalo and Raisa Smetanina (3 medals)
Most Medals (Country): Soviet Union (10 medals)
As in 1964, the 1976 cross-country events were held in and around Seefeld, a small village 17 km northwest of Innsbruck, which has become an important European center for cross-country skiing. The start and finish of the events were in the Langlaufzentrum, a stadium built for the 1964 Winter Olympics. The program was basically the same, with men having three individual races and a relay, and women two individual races and a relay. But the women’s relay was expanded from 3 x 5 km, which had been the format at the Winter Olympics from 1956-72, to 4 x 5 km. This changed had also taken place at the World Championships in 1974.
The shocking story of the 1976 cross-country events was the performance of American Bill Koch. He was completely unknown but in the first men’s race, the 30 km, he won a silver medal. He would later finish sixth in the 15 km, lead the 50 km halfway through before finishing 13th, and on the third leg of the relay, bring the USA up to the bronze medal position, although they fell back on the anchor. Through 2006, he remains the only USA cross-country skier, and the only North American male, to have won an Olympic medal.
In the women’s 5 km, Galina Kulakova, who had won three gold medals in 1972, originally placed third but was disqualified when doping control revealed traces of ephedrine, which were reportedly from a nasal spray. It was the first doping positive in Olympic cross-country skiing, but far from the last.