Annemarie Moser-Pröll arrived at Lake Placid in 1980 having already won a string of FIS World Championship gold medals and two Olympic silvers. But despite her status as the greatest woman Alpine skier on the slopes she had never taken a first place at the Games in either the downhill or giant slalom events.
Like her fellow Austrian daredevil Franz Klammer, Pröll had built herself a fearsome reputation thanks to her fearlessness and strong physique, which gave her the strength to hold faster, more difficult lines while shooting down the mountains.
Her audacious and courageous style – almost always taking a more perilous route to the finish line than her more cautious competitors – earned her the nickname ‘The Tiger from Kleinari’ from her adoring fans.
After a poor World Cup debut in 1967 at the age of just 14, Pröll won her first race in 1969 and made her breakthrough two years later, when she became the youngest ever overall winner of the FIS World Cup. She went on to defend the title an incredible five years running and also collected a World Championship downhill gold at St Moritz in 1974.
The years 1970 to 1975 were to prove Pröll’s golden period. But such was her will to win that she considered the silver medals she won at Sapporo in 1972 – where she came second to Swiss racer Marie Therèse Nadig in the downhill and giant slalom despite entering the competition as the clear favourite – as humiliating failures.
She told reporters: “Two silver medals do not equal one gold.” When she unexpectedly retired in 1975 at the age of 22 it seemed the greatest prize in the Olympic Games had eluded her.
After missing the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Pröll – who had married ski salesman Herbert Moser and nursed her dying father during her break – was suddenly back on the circuit. In 1979 she won the overall world title for a sixth time – and the following year she returned to Olympic competition with unfinished business.
Moser-Pröll had had a poor season, winning just one downhill race in an event utterly dominated by Nadig. But on Whiteface Mountain, racing sixth, she produced a typically aggressive run to finish in 1:37.52, ahead of Hanni Wenzel and Nadig.
With an Olympic gold medal finally in the bag, the Tiger retired again, returning to her home village near Salzburg to open the Weltcup-Café Annemarie, which housed her extensive collection of trophies and medals.
Moser-Pröll holds the record for the most FIS World Cup victories for a woman, with 62, including 36 wins in downhill.