Friday Flashback: Thorsness wins Olympic gold medal in 1984

September 4, 2020

Kris Thorsness

Anchorage’s Kris Thorsness had never rowed a boat before she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1979. And when she expressed interest to compete for the college’s women’s team, the so-called experts scoffed.

She was considered too short, too thin, too small. Plus, she was from Alaska and had zero experience.

Thorsness never paid attention to the doubters and went on to become an Alaska trailblazer, winning a national championship with Wisconsin in 1979 and then winning the state’s first Olympic gold medal in 1984.

Thorsness, of West High fame, also competed at the 1988 Olympics and won three silver medals at the world championships with Team USA in 1982, 1983 and 1987.

In some ways, the 5-foot-9, 150-pounder put Alaska on the map in the world of sports as she proved Alaskans belonged on the world stage.

Her success inspired the creation of the Anchorage Rowing Association.

In 2007, Thorsness was inducted into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class.

In 2008, she was the co-recipient of USRowing’s Ernestine Bayer Woman of the Year.

In 2018, she was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame.

Friday Flashback is a series created by Alaska Sports Hall of Fame blog editor Van Williams that looks back on great Alaska athletes from the past. To read about other Alaskans featured in this series, click here.