Hanni Wenzel Biography
Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information
Hanni Wendel is the first person from the tiny European country of Liechtenstein to win an Olympic gold medal. She won not just one, but two gold medals for skiing at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games held in Lake Placid, New York. She very nearly swept all three of the women's Alpine skiing events, earning, in addition to her two golds, a silver medal as well. Her brother, Andreas, too, took home a silver medal at the 1980 Olympics, for the men's downhill event. Together, the brother-and-sister team won fully a third of the 12 total metals for alpine skiing at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Born in Saubirnen, Germany in 1956, Hanni Wenzel moved to the smallest country in Europe, the nation of Liechtenstein (just 60 square miles), when she was one
year old. She entered international skiing competition in 1974 at the age of 18, winning a gold and a silver medal at the World Championships. When Wenzel was 20 years old, in 1976, she took home the bronze medal for the slalom in the Winter Olympic Games, held in Innsbruck, Austria. After the 1976 Olympics, Wenzel competed once more at the World Championships, bringing home a silver medal.
At the age of 23, Wenzel competed in the next Winter Olympics, which were held in Lake Placid, New York in 1980. In the 1980 Olympics, she competed in each of the three women's Alpine skiing events. She earned the silver medal in the downhill event and the gold medals in the giant slalom and the slalom. It was the first time anyone from her nation had won a gold medal at the Olympics.
Wenzel's brother Andreas and her sister Petra were also on the Liechtenstein Olympic skiing team. Although Petra did not win a metal, Andreas took home the silver medal for the men's downhill event. The brother-and-sister metal-winning performance was a first for Alpine skiing at the Olympic Games.
The Wenzel's combined four medals at the Olympics made them national heroes in their tiny homeland of Liechtenstein (population of 25,000). As Wenzel began her gold medal-winning run on the giant slalom, the bars of Vaduz, Liechtenstein's capital city, were packed with citizens watching the event on television. As soon as Wenzel completed the second run of the giant slalom and it was clear that she had won Liechtenstein's first Olympic gold medal, the streets of Vaduz erupted in raucous celebration. Red and blue flags were draped from windows, and people poured out into the streets to hug and kiss each other.
The owner of the best restaurant in Vaduz had promised Wenzel's mother that he would invite her to dinner if Wenzel won the gold medal, and he kept his promise. Crown Prince Hans-Adam, son of Franz Joseph II, the ruler of Liechtenstein, and Hans-Adam's wife joined Wenzel's mother for the dinner.
Among the celebrants were a group of Vaduz business owners who had promised that if Wenzel won the gold medal, they would immediately fly to Lake Placid to congratulate Wenzel personally. And so they did, arriving not long after Franz Joseph II's congratulatory telegram
Also in 1980, Wenzel was voted by European sports writers UPI Sportswoman of the Year. It was another first for Liechtenstein—no other athlete from that nation had ever won this honor.
Wenzel retired from competitive skiing in the early 1980s. In 1985, Wenzel and her husband, Harti Weirather, who won the men's downhill skiing event at the World Cup in 1981, founded a company called Weirather, Wenzel and Partner. Based in Liechtenstein, the company acts as an agency for sporting events organizers who wish to find corporate sponsors for their events. The agency has proven successful, making possible such events as the Hahnenkamm downhill event in Kitzbühel, Austria. Liechtenstein's first Olympic gold medal winner has found a way to stay in the game, and she and her company are still going strong into the 21st century.
Sketch by Michael Belfiore
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