The tall lady from the small country
A name which has given Liechtenstein its illustrious sporting history; a name which resonates in the heart of a principality that is small in surface area, but great through its accomplishments: Hanni Wenzel, the champion with the golden smile, is today celebrating her 50th birthday.
A hat trick on skis
Two editions of the Olympic Games were enough to make Hanni Wenzel enter Olympic history: Innsbruck in 1976 and Lake Placid in 1980.
For her first participation in the Winter Games, the young skier did not have to embark on a long trip or suffer from the time difference: the Austrian city of Innsbruck was only 150km away from her adopted country of Liechtenstein. Practically competing at home, Hanni Wenzel debuted in the competition on 8 February 1976 in the downhill event, in which she finished 11th. Five days later, she came 20th in the giant slalom. These two results were respectable, but gave no suggestion of what was to come in the slalom, a significant event. On 11 February, after two rounds and passing through 101 gates, the lady from Liechtenstein finished third and thus gave her country the very first Olympic medal in its history.
Four years later in Lake Placid, Hanni put her skis on again and turned up at the slopes of Whiteface Mountain at the top of her form. Entering the same events as at the previous Games, this time she took home three medals. Everything began with the downhill, in which she was beaten by just over one second by Switzerland’s Anne-Marie Moser-Proll and took second place. But she did not waste time in taking a gold medal. On 21 February 1980, in the giant slalom event, she managed first and third place respectively in the two heats and thus took her first Olympic gold medal. A reward which was quickly added to by wins two days later in the slalom, in which she had the best time in the two heats. For the skier, these Games ended on an almost perfect triple: gold, gold and silver.
The Alpine skiing gene
Andreas and Petra Wenzel inherited the same genes as their sister Hanni. The passion for Alpine skiing ran in their veins, and they were not afraid to follow the example of their elder sister, themselves taking part in several Olympic Winter Games.
In Lake Placid in 1980 and Sarajevo in 1984, Petra Wenzel competed in the same events as Hanni: the downhill, slalom and giant slalom. However, she did not manage to win a medal, her results fluctuating between 14th and 23rd place. Andreas, their brother, took part in four editions of the Winter Games: Innsbruck 1976, Lake Placid 1980, Sarajevo 1984 and Calgary 1988. He also competed in the same events as his sisters and won two Olympic medals in the giant slalom: silver in Lake Placid and bronze in Sarajevo. The Wenzel family thus has two medals of each metal – which alone account for two-thirds of Liechtenstein’s Olympic medals tally.
Glory, and then…
In 1985, Hanni Wenzel retired from competition. She married Harti Weirather, a former world champion skier. Together they set up a marketing agency in Planken - a successful re-integration for the woman who used her name and talent to serve her country.