Thorsness celebrates 30-year reunion w/ Olympic rowing team

August 24, 2014

Womens RowingIt’s been 30 years, but Kris Thorsness of Anchorage still can’t believe she was the first Alaskan to win an Olympic gold medal.

She wasn’t supposed to become rowing royalty. She was labeled as too short, too thin, too small. She was from Alaska where rowing barely existed in 1984. Yet she proved everyone wrong.

“It may sound odd, but I sometimes have a hard time believing that all of that really happened to me,” she told me over the weekend. “I was so fortunate to be teamed with such an amazing group of athletes.”

Thorsness, now 54, reunited with her Olympic teammates earlier this month in Seattle, where the women rowed the same boat they used to win the gold at the Los Angeles Games 30 years ago.

“There’s a real magic getting into that boat with those women,” she said. “It’s like a time machine that transports me back through the years. As you can see from the pictures, some of the rowers are still very much in shape. We did some starts and 20 stroke power pieces, and it really moved out. People even started talking about finding someone to race!”

Thorsness also won silver medals at the World Championships in 1982, 1983 and 1987. Her success inspired the creation of the Anchorage Rowing Association.

She was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural Class of 2007.

Thorsness keeps her gold medal in her sock drawer, taking it out for only special occasions like when she speaks at schools and kids clubs. Or when someone asks to see it like some guys did the other day while installing a window at her house.

The medal doesn’t compare to the friendships she forced with those Olympic teammates.

“It was really wonderful to be together with my teammates and coach again. I see some of them from time to time, but because we’re spread across the country, these reunions are the only time we’re all in one place,” Thorsness said. “We are such diverse and assertive personalities, but once we sit in the boat we become a single organism – just like it was 30 years ago.”