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Obituary for ski Olympic champion Heidi Biebl: The queen from the Allgäu


At the age of 19 she drove to downhill gold in Squaw Valley and became the darling of the West German media. But the career of Heidi Biebl, who has now died at the age of 80, only lasted a few years.

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Ski star Heidi Biebl at the giant slalom in Grindelwald (1960): And then her name was Heidi

Photo: Horstmüller / IMAGO

The 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics seem otherworldly today.

There were hardly any live pictures from overseas in Europe, Austrian television only broadcast the pictures of the women's downhill race a day later.

The audience in Austria, the skiing country, only realized with some delay that none of his runners had triumphed in this parade discipline, but Heidi Biebl from Oberstaufen in the Allgäu.

The downhill race from the KT22 on February 20, 1960 was a treacherous route, even by the standards of the time, with bumps that were the undoing of several favorites.

There were a number of falls, but Heidi Biebl, three days after her 19th birthday, got through the most difficult passages unscathed.

The trainer had drilled into her to give everything possible in the upper part of the track, so she took full risk from the start. "She threw herself onto the track like a ravenous wolf on a lamb," SPIEGEL quoted a GDR reporter as saying at the time.

So she raced to the finish with the best time in front of the American Penny Pitou – but instead of cheering there, she scolded and then let her dissatisfaction with her own race run free in the purest Bavarian: “I could cry with anger, today I raised i did everything wrong.«

Predecessor of Rosi Mittermaier

She couldn't have done that much wrong, at the age of 19 she had already reached the peak of her career: Olympic champion in downhill, queen in the supreme discipline, no downhill gold medalist before her was younger.

Successor to Christl Cranz, the winner of 1936, predecessor of Rosi Mittermaier in 1976. And then her name was Heidi.

You couldn't paint more for an alpine saga.

Even though three other members of the all-German team, speed skater Helga Haase, combined athlete Georg Thoma and ski jumper Helmut Recknagel, won gold – Heidi Biebl was Germany's star of the games.

SPIEGEL dedicated a 30,000-character cover story to her, something that not many athletes have been able to do to this day.

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SPIEGEL title 6/1962: The hype was huge in Germany

She had worked hard for this triumph, not much fell into her lap even as a teenager.

Growing up with her mother, her father had died on the Eastern Front during World War I, she had never met him.

Her mother became her ski instructor.

She gave up her Abitur and instead did an apprenticeship in a ski factory.

Heidi Biebl fully relied on sport as an opportunity to get to the top.

At 19 she was at the top.

"I didn't even know what was going on there"

Before the race, she was at best one of the extended group of favorites, so she was overwhelmed afterwards.

She heard the hymn, which was Beethoven's Ode to Joy at the time for reasons of sports policy, for the first time in her life on the winner's podium.

»I had no idea what was going on there.«

Back in Germany, the hype was huge, she was the darling of the media, and that too overwhelmed her.

While others, such as Austria's superstar Toni Sailer, were already marketing her fame perfectly at the time, her ski company only offered her a wristwatch - and she turned it down: "I already had one." At least her driver's license was then financed.

She was also successful in sports afterwards.

In the then renowned so-called SDS races - the abbreviation stood for Swiss Women's Ski Club and not yet for Socialist German Student Union -, precursor of the later World Cup, she won several times between 1961 and 1965, she accumulated 15 German championship titles.

But she never had such a great success as in 1960 in Squaw Valley.

No longer nominated for the World Cup

At the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, she narrowly missed the podium with two fourth places in downhill and slalom, and just two years later her career was over.

For the 1966 World Cup in Portillo, Chile, she was not even nominated by the DSV.

Biebl, pugnacious, not always easy to care for, had previously tangled with a few officials who got even with her by not taking Biebl to the World Cup, saying she "didn't reach the required standard of performance".

"I was left then, I was simply too undiplomatic for the gentlemen," she later said.

Biebl was so touched that she ended her career at the age of 25, devoting herself to her job as a ski instructor and teaching children and young people how to ski.

Heidi Biebl died on Friday at the age of 80, as was announced on Monday.

She remained true to the Allgäu to the end: her gold medal from the distant Squaw Valley is in the local history museum in Oberstaufen.

Source: spiegel

All sports articles on 2022-01-24

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