Coming out of nowhere
February 13, 1972
Francisco “Paquito” Fernandez Ochoa was very much the twist in the tale of the Sapporo 1972 Olympic Winter Games.
Lining up in the slalom event, the Spaniard, a more than capable skier but just 21 years old, was not even discussed as a potential medal contender.
But Ochoa went for broke on his run to win gold, the video footage showing him coming within a whisker of losing his rhythm and his way on the course on at least three occasions.
Clearly shattered towards the bottom of a technically tricky run, he lunged over the line, almost falling back on his bottom as he lost his balance. Ochoa seemed blown away to turn back and find himself with the quickest time on the leaderboard.
“Imagine, if you will, a Spanish Olympic ski champion. It’s as if a Japanese became kind of the bullring.”
He raised his hands aloft in celebration, his face seemingly dumbfounded by the result, as members of the Spanish team hugged him in delight.
The only one of his kind
Ochoa remains the first and only Spaniard to win Olympic Winter gold but his golden run was remarkably the first victory by Spain in any Games – Summer or Winter – since 1928.
Amusingly, he was almost denied the chance to receive his gold having forgotten to bring his credentials, the security disbelieving that a Spaniard might have skied to alpine glory.
Recalling the incident, he said: “And they were right. Imagine, if you will, a Spanish Olympic ski champion. It’s as if a Japanese became kind of the bullring.”
Despite being born in Madrid – not renowned for its skiing – his father ran a ski school, and he was one of five siblings to represent his nation at the Olympic Games.
Sadly, he died of lympathic cancer at the age of 56 but had a statue erected in his honour just two weeks before.