Sarah Thomasson, the only woman in the Swedish Alpine World Championships team. Photo: Gunnar Lantz, Svenska Dagbladet, 18 January 1950. Källa: Stockholmskällan.
– an “unknown” Swedish alpine champion
A proud dad hugging his beaming daughter. The photo was taken in 1954 and the young woman had just won bronze in the ladies’ slalom at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Åre. Sarah Thomasson was one of Sweden’s best alpine racers at the time and the reserved Åre native will always remain part of skiing history thanks to her medal win.
She had high expectations before the slalom race. The previous weekend, she had beaten the entire world elite in a large competition at Holmenkollen. She was in great shape. But the slalom race at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Åre didn’t start well for her. The reversed starting order was still unknown then and Sarah Thomasson was given the bib number 22, the final number in her start group, in both runs. It was to her great disadvantage and nerves were jangling. Her family were watching the second run from the finish area with great suspense, yet she overcame the pressure and won a medal.
– I was very nervous. There were just a couple of gates left and we cheered her on to ”just keep going”, which she did it. The atmosphere was great; it was the first time ever for Åre to carry out such a big event. We were so proud, said Lars Thomasson, the youngest of the eight Thomasson siblings, who is 90 today.
Sarah was born in Åre in July 1925. Mother Lucia owned reindeer and father Nils was photographer and shop owner. The photo studio was located atop the store at the Åre square and that is where he created many of the black and white images that are seen on postcards and paintings of Åre still today. The Thomassons’s family home is still located in the middle of the village and is one of the olders buildings in Åre today. During Sarah’s childhood, the home was a meeting place for the region’s Sami where they gathered to discuss questions related to reindeer rearing and the rights of the Sami.
– Our house was always open to visitors. It was a meeting point and the guests were always offered food and drink. Our father was a very welcoming person and had many friends and acquaintances who visited us, explained Lars Thomasson.
The family were keen skiers and like everyone else in the community they also used to race when an opportunity was given. Sarah’s ski racing talent was obvious from early on and she became known for her smooth and athletic skiing style. Racing on wooden skis and free heels, she raced down the hill and soon won her first Swedish national titles in both technical and speed events. Her travels soon extended beyond Europe and overseas to the USA. Her local ski club Åre SLK and the Swedish Sport Federation helped pay for the travel costs but when she was not travelling to race, she worked in father Nils’s shop.
– Our parents were great supporters of Sarah. My father was very happy when she won the bronze in Åre, said Lars Thomasson.
Sarah won a total of six Swedish national titles during her career and enjoyed great international success. There was no World Cup at that time, however there were various start groups with rankings and Sarah was among the best. In 1951, she was nominated the Female Athlete of the Year Award after yet another win in a major European competition. She participated in the Olympic Winter Games 1952 in Oslo, finishing 12thin the slalom and also raced at the Alpine World Ski Championships in the USA in 1950.
Despite her great successes, Sarah Thomasson is relatively unknown today. One reason for that is that she did not like the media spotlight and seldom gave interviews.
– She was afraid that the newspapers would write things that she did not agree with. She was very careful with the image that she displayed in public. For her what counted was what you do, not what you say. But at home she was happy and had a great sense of humor, stated Lars Thomasson.
The bronze medal in Åre was her career’s greatest victory. But it was not just a personal triumph. The town of Åre and Sweden as a ski nation also benefited from her success at the home championships. It did not hurt either that the medalist came from Åre.
– It was a great opportunity for Åre to organize the Championships. It was a true chance to shine for the entire village. There were additional trains on a daily basis full of people and the international racers were there for everyone to see in real life. Åre became an internationally known ski area as a result, noted Lars Thomasson.
Following her marriage to pediatrician Henrik Voss, Sarah retired from competition and moved away from Åre. The couple had three children and the family moved a number of times over the years, all around Sweden, before the family finally settled in Östersund. Sarah re-educated herself and then worked at the Till Fjälls travel agency. Despite leaving Åre, her love for skiing never faded.
– She loved skiing and had a great affinity to nature, alpine skiing and Åre, recalled her daughter Margaretha Voss.
For Margaretha and her siblings, skiing is always present. The legacy that Sarah left means a lot for them and her home town Åre remains a meeting place for the entire family that is now spread around Scandinavia. They go skiing annually in Åre and for Margaretha, Mount Åre (Åreskutan) holds a special place in her heart. That is where mother Sarah taught her and her siblings to ski.
– When I am at Åreskutan I truly feel connected with my mother.
Sarah remained active throughout her life. The year before her death she bought new skis and went alpine and cross-country skiing with her children and grandchildren.
– She played golf and cross-country skied until she became ill. Her death came as a surprise and she died all too prematurely, said Margaretha Voss.
Sarah Thomasson died in 1996 after a short fight with cancer at her home in Östersund at the age of 70.
Interested in seeing Åre as it was in the early 20th century? Click here to see more images taken by Nils Thomasson.