Michela Figini shot out of the starting gate and flew down Mount Jahorina to win gold in the women’s downhill race at the 1984 Games – making the petite 17-year-old the youngest skiier ever to win an Olympic medal.
Her victory was all the more impressive as she achieved it despite the event on Mount Jahorina being repeatedly hampered by wildly inconsistent weather. Fog, heavy snow and high winds led to delays and safety concerns.
A few minutes after her blistering first run on February 15 another competitor fell, prompting fears the course hadn’t been laid out properly. The race was stopped and then abandoned due to fog. It was ac cruel blow to Figini after such a strong start.
But the youthful Swiss-Italian skier showed maturity and consistency beyond her tender years, taking in her stride the physical and mental challenges of having to wait for conditions to improve so she could go again.
Figini, from Prato in southern Switzerland, had already been marked out as a future star of the women’s downhill scene.
She first turned heads as a 16-year-old in the 1982-83 season with third and fourth places in World Cup races and an overall 26th place finish.
She recorded her first win in the World Cup just two weeks prior to the Sarajevo Games in February 1984. And in trials prior to the main event she dominated, winning three of five races, skiing at an average 62mph.
But when reporters asked her if she was favourite to take gold, she replied solemnly: “This is training. This is not the race.”
Once I had that line, I was confident that I could go out and do it again the next day. I wasn’t worried.Michela Figini
By the time the weather on Mount Jahorina had improved sufficiently to resume the women’s downhill race, a day after the fogbound course was shut, the course was blanketed in a thin layer of soft snow, favouring breakneck gliders like Figini over more technically inclined skiers.
When Walliser bolted form the starting gate and slipped almost immediately, cost a vital half-second, Figini saw her chance. She pulled off another near-flawless run to edge out her rival by five-hundredths of a second.
She told reporters later: “I wasn’t upset when they stopped the race, because it was the right decision. I'd had two training runs before that first race, and they had been just so-so. But in the race I found my line and I was skiing really well.
“Once I had that line, I was confident that I could go out and do it again the next day. I wasn’t worried.”
Figini retained her form after the 1984 Games, enjoying one World Cup winning streak the following season that saw her triumph in an astonishing seven races in 16 days.
By the time the Calgary Games came around four years later she was rated the best women’s downhill skier in the world, and along with Walliser towered over the sport. She failed to defend her downhill gold in Canada, but took silver in the Super G.
Figini went on to win more than a dozen World Cup races and claimed the overall Alpine Skiing World Cup in 1985 and 1988, before retiring in 1990.