Quicksilver Oreiller writes his name into skiing history
Henri Oreiller was the star of the St Moritz skiing events, and perhaps the star of the whole Games. Oreiller took golds in downhill and combined, as well as a bronze in slalom, all the while charming and intriguing the spectators with his gung-ho style. He was one of only two athletes to win double-gold in these Games, and the only athlete to win three medals.
Oreiller was a confident, cheery competitor, known for never-say-die style. His flamboyant style saw him nicknamed the Parisian of Val d'Isère, but he was also called the “madman of the downhill” because of his relentless focus on speed at all costs. And with speed came confidence. Oreiller once announced that his rivals need not take part – because he was certain to win, while his background included time spent in the French resistance during the Second World War.
His skiing style was simple – to go at breakneck speed and regain his balance while in mid-air. But in St Moritz, it worked fabulously.
His victory in the downhill was the stuff of legends. This was the first time the event had been contested and Oreiller became its most dominant winner, triumphing by a margin of four seconds. The gap between him and silver medallist Franz Gabl, of Austria, was wider than the total gap between Gabl and eighth placed Fernand Grosjean of Switzerland.
Not content with that gold medal, Oreiller repeated the trick two days later with victory in the Alpine combined. This time, he won the downhill section by more than five second, and could afford to finish only fifth in the slalom to seal a clear victory. A third medal, this time bronze, came in the slalom.
Oreiller retired from skiing in 1952, when he was just 26 years old.