Paoletta Magoni was one of a trio of skiers to deliver shock results at the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984. The 19-year-old captured the gold medal in the women’s slalom, the final skiing event of the competition, making her the first Italian woman ever to win Olympic gold in Alpine skiing.
Racing in dense fog, she stunned spectators on Mount Jahorina – those who could see her time flash on the electronic scoreboard – just as Debbie Armstrong had in the giant slalom three days previously and downhill champion Bill Johnson had 24 hours earlier. She buried her hands in her ski gloves and cried.
Like many Olympic skiers, Magoni grew up surrounded by snow-capped mountains, in her case in the town of Selvino, near Bergamo in the Italian Alps. Her handyman father Franco, a ski enthusiast, coaxed her on to the slopes at an early age, as he did with her brothers and sisters to form ‘Team Magoni’.
The young Paoletta was perhaps fated to become an Olympic champion: Franco attempted to have his daughter baptised Moser-Pröll in honour of the audacious Austrian downhill racing queen Annemarie Moser-Pröll, but was overruled by the local priest.
With coaching from her father, she began to progress. According to an interview Magoni’s mother Margherita gave after Sarajevo, from the age of seven her daughter became consumed by the desire to win every race.
Once she had outgrown her father’s training coaches were hired: Franco even sold the family home and moved to smaller house to free up money for his daughter’s development.
By the mid teens Magoni, a powerful, focused competitor, was on Italy’s national ‘B’ team and had tasted victory in the Europa Cup competition. But after stepping up to the highest level she found she was out of her depth and considered quitting the sport.
But her father persuaded her to persevere, and four years later she found herself in Yugoslavia. Franco, naturally, built a replica Olympic cauldron in the family’s garden in Italy, and lit the flame. An iron frame holding six large Olympic rings stood nearby.
Magoni’s first run saw her in joint fourth place with Perrine Pelen of France – a performance she was happy with. She was first out of the gates on her second run – and from nowhere the 1,55m skier had the race of her life, completing the course in 47.62. She then had to wait a nerve-shredding ten minutes for her rivals to ski down the mountain – until finally she claimed gold.
She later said she dreamed about her winning performance on the eve of the race, down to the time on the scoreboard.
Whether she was fated to win or simply earned her medal after years of dedicated training, the end result was the same – a stunning victory that won Italy its first gold medal in a woman’s event at the Olympic Winter Games in eight years.