Ochoa blazes Winter trail for Spain
Spain’s Francisco Ochoa was the author of the biggest shock of these Games, and one of the biggest in Olympic history
The slalom specialist, known to just about everyone as Paquito, came to Sapporo with hopes of performing well and finishing in the top ten. He had never before finished higher than sixth in a major competition and there was little in his pre-Olympic form to suggest that he was ready to make the leap to the top of the podium.
Moreover, Spain's track record in the Winter Games was not exactly inspiring. No Spanish athlete had ever won Olympic gold on snow or ice, so Ochoa’s chances looked slim to negligible.
He had made his Olympic debut four years earlier, finishing 23rd in the slalom and a lowly 38th in both the giant slalom and the downhill. Since then he had notched a top-ten finish in the 1970 World Championships but was not expected to challenge Italy’s Gustavo Thöni and France's Jean-Noël Augert in the slalom in Sapporo.
Sometimes, though, the script goes out of the window on the Olympic stage. After the first run, Augert was lying second. So far, so predictable. However, topping the leader board was not Thöni (who was down in eighth), but Ochoa.
The Spaniard had produced the best run of his life, covering the slalom course in 55.36 seconds, a third of a second quicker than Augert. Still, few believed he could hang on for gold. Surely Augert would overtake him – and surely Thöni could still produce something remarkable.
Sure enough, Thöni’s second run was a stunning effort, the fastest of anyone. But Augert could only manage the tenth fastest time, pushing him out of the medals altogether. Then Ochoa defied expectations, shrugging off the pressure, and producing the second fastest time of the run, which was enough to give him the gold medal by a huge margin. Thöni claimed silver, while the bronze went to his cousin, Rolando.
Ochoa became Spain's first ever Winter Olympic champion, and its first gold medallist at any Olympic Games for more than four decades.