MADRID, Feb. 13 (.) –
February 13, 1972 is embroidered with gold letters in the history of Spanish sport. That day, a Spaniard, Francisco Fernández-Ochoa, gave the greatest national success to date in the Winter Olympics, a gold medal that no other has been able to match and that this Sunday celebrates nothing more and nothing less than half a century.
High-competition skiing cannot be understood without the figure of this man from Madrid, who achieved Olympic glory at a very young age, barely 21 years old, and who put Spain on the scene of Olympic winter sports. It has been 50 years since he was crowned against all odds in the special slalom event at the 1972 Sapporo Games and the greatness of his figure was even more evident when he passed away in 2006.
‘Paquito’ has not yet taken over as winter Olympic champion and he also had to wait two decades for him not to be alone in the medal table. A wait that ended with her sister Blanca, also in the more technical discipline of skiing, the one who climbed to the podium with a bronze medal in Albertville 1992, the year of the Olympic ‘boom’ in the country thanks to the Barcelona Summer Games in months after they changed much of the national sports scene.
The eldest of eight brothers, his passion for skiing could have come from his relationship with Cercedilla, where he was born on February 25, 1956, the day on which he curiously fell in heavy snowfall, perhaps as a harbinger of what the future awaited him. In the Madrid town, where he was feted and is still very much in the thoughts of his neighbors, reside his museum, an avenue with his name and a bronze sculpture on a granite base by Rafael Muyor that represents his moment on the Olympic podium.
It was also important due to the influence of his uncle Manolo, who took away his fear by encouraging him to jump down the steepest slopes or in return he would give him “two hosts”. That courage would make her her hallmark and she was her key that February 13, 1972 on Mount Taine on her second descent full of risk in pursuit of Olympic glory.
Paco Fernández-Ochoa, who became champion of Spain 27 times, stood out very early and his first Olympic opportunity arrived when he was about to come of age. He was in the French Grenoble in 1968, a year before having entered the national team despite not having an enviable physique.
The man from Madrid and his teammates had to battle during those years with the scarcity of resources in Spain, a country with little tradition in snow and ice sports, to compete at a high level in the World Cup with the best. But that didn’t make him give up until he reached his goal in the Games where no one counted on him too much and where he was the best asset in a delegation made up of Conchita Puig and Aurelio García.
“I was very convinced that I could be with the best if everything went well and that I was in good shape and grace. So much so, that I told Dr. Figueras to do the interview for me before then I wouldn’t be able to” , recognized years later in the program ‘Escuela del deporte’ of La2.
And his prescient words began to be confirmed when he amazed everyone with a great first round where he not only set the fastest time but also surpassed by almost a second and a half the considered favorite by all, the Italian Gustavo Thoeni. Frenchman Jean-Noël Augert was the closest to him, at 41 hundredths.
Now it was his turn to endure the pressure and the nerves in a second descent to confirm his feat. Thoeni had reacted and had the best time in the absence of his own and ‘Paquito’ was not intimidated and signed another high-quality heat to win the gold medal by more than a second. “He looks like a cat on a ski slope,” his sister Blanca recalled of him in the report ‘The humble roots of a national hero’ that is on the IOC website.
“The biggest surprise of the 1972 Winter Games was the sensational victory of ‘Paquito’ Ochoa, 21, who won the slalom by a second,” reads precisely the IOC page in its section dedicated to the biography of the Spanish skier , which the images seem to reflect with a face that mixes surprise and emotion and hunched over his shoulders for a triumph that he was about not to celebrate because he forgot his credential to attend the award ceremony of his metal and ran into the traditional organizational rigidity of the Japanese.
His gold medal was not only the first in the history of winter Olympic sport, but also the third between the Summer and Winter Games, and the first at the individual level. Only the point basket couple formed by Francisco Villota and José de Amézola, whose rivals decided not to appear, in Paris 1900, and José Álvarez de Bohórquez, Julio García Fernández and José Navarro Morenes, in the team jumping contest of the equestrian Amsterdam 1928, they knew what a gold metal was. He was received as a hero in Spain and received by Francisco Franco.
A world bronze medal in 1974 and his only victory in the World Cup that same year accompanied the Madrid skier in his international track record, who competed in two more Games (Innsbruck’76 and Lake Placid’80). Despite not succeeding, his legend had already been forged and his figure was well remembered, although he did not enter the list of the Grand Cross of the Order of Sports Merit until 2001.
Four years later he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer that he could not overcome, although once again he demonstrated his courage to face the situation. “I have run many races. Some I have won and others I have lost, but I always used myself to the fullest, thoroughly, as I am doing now,” she stressed days before she died in one of his many tributes in Cercedilla.
“He was ahead of his time, because he won a medal in an unthinkable time in Spain. You have to keep that. But Paco’s figure transcends the result, he was a social phenomenon and was an Olympic champion. He has been a great winner in the sport and in life”, assured that fateful November 6, 2006 Alejandro Blanco, president of the COE.