Skip to main content
Original Issue


Here comes Annemarie, going after Olympic gold. She's down in World Cup standings, but up for this one

Annemarie Moser-Pröll is fearless. She's also intimidating, headstrong and aggressive. She's temperamental, independent and insufferably arrogant, too. Upon meeting Moser-Pröll, strangers find her hauteur chilling and her stare insolent. She makes them uncomfortable. Only her closest friends and family insist that she can also be warm. And Moser-Pröll herself allows that she has her sweet moments. "I'm not a brutal hen," she says. "My husband can attest to that."

Perhaps it's the competition. Moser-Pröll can stand a lot of pain, cold, danger and the rigors of a nomadic life, but she cannot stand losing, and the most celebrated competitor on the women's ski-racing circuit has been losing some big races this season. That has made her all the more fierce. At 26, Moser-Pröll is at her prime, with a body as steely as her personality. At 5'7" and 148 pounds, she presents a more or less solid block from her shoulders down to the awesome bulges of her buttocks and thighs; there isn't more than a hint of a graceful curve anywhere. Her eyes are the color of icicles, a cold pale blue. There is a reddish sheen to her hair, and her face is pallid and freckled. But there is no sporting law that says champions have to be cuddly, and when everybody assembles at the top of a ski run, there is still no other woman who races quite like Moser-Pröll.

This season she is literally racing herself into shape, because she missed just about all of her early training because of injuries. It has produced a strange state of World Cup affairs—with Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll in second instead of her usual first spot—and has stirred concern about just what might be going on. Switzerland's Marie-Theres Nadig has had a hot streak, winning six downhills to Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll's one. Could it be that Annemarie is human? Possibly. She has lost by as little as 11-hundredths here, three-tenths there, but she considers such defeats to be trifling and her confidence remains unshaken. What is more important to her is that she be in awesome shape when she checks in next week in Lake Placid, where in the final season of her career she will go after the only trophy she hasn't won so far—an Olympic gold medal.

Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll will be a three-event threat at Placid—and a beauty to behold in action. As a rule, she does well in slalom and giant slalom—but she really lays them out in the downhill. She has an instinct for the right moves and the strength to hold a line at 80 mph. Where other skiers look for the "perfect line" dictated by the terrain, Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll just charges ahead on a straighter, more dangerous route. She holds her tuck longer than any woman, and she was the first woman to change weight from one ski to the other in that position, which is a lot riskier than it sounds. A couple of other women—Nadig and Cindy Nelson of the U.S.—have mastered this maneuver too, but neither can sustain a tuck as long as Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll does. The tougher the course the better; Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll skis closer to the gates in the turns than her rivals and gains precious split seconds on bumps, absorbing the shocks through her mighty legs. She also rarely makes a mistake.

"Annemarie is the greatest downhiller of all times," says Alois Bumberger, the Austrian women's coach. "She is built like a man, and she fights like one. But she also skis rationally, never taking foolish risks. She wants to win. Only victory counts."

Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll sees nothing extraordinary in all of this. "I don't get so involved that I picture myself in advance going through the race," she says. "And during the race I don't think a thing. Sure, there will be problems—but there won't be time to think, anyway. It's just normal when I win."

And, at last, that's when a more human Moser-Pröll emerges. After a race she will dig into her pockets, produce a battered pack of Marlboros and casually light one up. "There is nothing as satisfying as a smoke after a race," she says. This shocks a good many people.

Her closest competitors are more shocked by her winning times. Before every downhill race last season, any number of them would have faster training runs than Moser-Pröll, and they would be pumped up with confidence that they would at last be able to beat the queen. Moser-Pröll would cool it until race day before uncorking the killer instinct. "When I'm second, I see red," she says.

"Annemarie's excellent. She has class," said Nelson, one of the best U.S. prospects in the women's downhill, speaking at the end of last season. "I hold the highest respect for her. I keep learning from her. She has done things in racing that a woman can do only when she has supreme confidence. She has consistently good results; they keep coming and coming because of her confidence. The rest of us are just chasing her—and she loves it. It makes her even stronger."

In the 12 years since Moser-Pröll's first World Cup race as a slender tomboy of 14, she has won 61 such events and earned the overall World Cup trophy in six seasons. She has also collected eight Olympic or world championship medals, winning the downhill in both the 1974 and 1978 world championships. Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, the reigning world champ in the slalom and GS, is runner-up with 46 victories and three World Cups. Franz Klammer, the most acclaimed of the men's downhillers, won eight downhills in 1975, a season record for a male. Two years before, Moser-Pröll had set the women's record by winning eight straight. Last season she won six downhills out of seven. (She fell in the other race, won by Nelson.) In Austria, her home country, they call her eine Frau ohne Grenzen (a woman without limits), a tribute that seemed especially fitting after she took her sixth World Cup overall trophy last March.

Maybe all this goes back to Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll's first World Cup downhill, in Bad Gastein in 1968. She fell three times, but she finished—in last place. Few skiers would have continued after the first fall. "She has always been like that," says Hauserl Schwaighofer, Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll's personal "racer-chaser," who has waxed her skis for 10 years. "She never gives up."

Then came a stunning performance a year later in the St. Gervais downhill. Pröll (she, of course, had not yet married Herbert Moser) started back among the nobodies, in 67th position, but with a tremendous 30-foot leap off the top of the final schuss she tied for second with France's ace, Annie Famose. The following year she made her country's A team, scoring her first World Cup victory in a GS at Maribor, Yugoslavia and winning the bronze medal in the downhill at the world championships in Val Gardena. In 1971, at 17, she became the youngest racer ever to take the overall World Cup.

Annemarie went to the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo as a confident favorite in the downhill and the GS, but she was beaten in both by Nadig. The reason for the upset, many observers feel, was the Karl Schranz Affair, which destroyed the unity and morale of the Austrian team. It was not so much that Schranz was disqualified for being a professional that upset his teammates; it was his demand—backed by coaches and team officials—that, as a gesture of solidarity, the others refuse to compete. Annemarie figured that Schranz had nobody to blame but himself. After all, what self-respecting amateur racer would disclose his earnings at a time when the term "broken-time payments" hadn't been invented? "What he is asking he would never do for me," Annemarie said. For days she didn't know whether or not she would be able to race. There was no training. When the Austrians finally decided that their team was to compete after all, the racers were emotionally shot. Annemarie won two silver medals, cried a lot and, when she got home, attached a metal plaque to the dashboard of her car, which read: NEVER FORGET SAPPORO.

Perhaps her long memory has contributed to her untoward behavior. Upon losing a race, Moser-Pröll has flown into a tantrum, throwing down her poles and running off the hill in tears. When teammate Monika Kaserer won a few races and began to share the limelight, they became bitter enemies. Moser-Pröll trained very hard when she felt like it, but she usually didn't feel like it when the weather was bad. In the January 1975 races in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Coach Sigi Bernegger threatened to send her home because she was forever disregarding his rules. The following day Moser-Pröll won the GS and, the day after that, the downhill. Then she stirred up a rebellion against Bernegger which got him fired at the end of the season. In March, after winning her fifth Cup, she up and retired, even though the Innsbruck Olympics and a possible Olympic gold were only a year away.

It wasn't the specter of another humiliation à la Sapporo, Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll explained. It was just that she was tired of traveling, tired of fighting with the officials and Alois Rohrmoser, the owner of the Atomic Company, which supplied her skis. It was said that Rohrmoser gave her fast cars but was very stingy with the cash. She wanted a quiet life with her husband of 1½ years and had to look after her ailing father. It wasn't until after Josef Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll died in 1976 that Annemarie began to train again. She returned to racing in December of that year and promptly proved that she had lost none of her spark, but much of her temper. She won as often as before, but now when she lost she laughed, cracking, "How come nobody congratulates me today?" She became downright popular.

It was no secret that her comeback was prompted in large part by an acute need for funds. As it turned out, it was not only a blessing for her and her husband but for all of Kleinarl.

Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll's hometown is a cluster of some 200 houses nestled under the craggy Ennskraxn, which guards the valley like an 8,500-foot watchtower. Until recently Kleinarl was poor, but now the place is jumping. It used to have only one T-bar lift; now a great network of lifts is in place, which has become accessible this winter to visitors via a new autobahn interchange. "La Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll gets her very own freeway exit," wrote Die Presse when the project got under way. "Every year we are adding a hundred beds," says one innkeeper. "It was more gemütlich in the old days, but now we have business. Everybody wants to come to Kleinarl. Annemarie has now put Kleinarl on the map."

Annemirl, as the Kleinarlers call her, grew up on a farm 600 feet above the village. The sixth of eight children, she learned how to round up the cows and bring in hay and firewood. She also learned how to ski, when she was four, on skis made by her father.

Rohrmoser first saw Annemarie when she was 13, winning a downhill on a battered pair of wooden Fischer skis with cable bindings. Rohrmoser is no dummy: he presented her with a new pair of his Atomic metal skis and outfitted her in the latest racing garb. In the years since, Rohrmoser has managed to keep her on his skis, despite lucrative offers from other manufacturers, and Moser-Pröll has been the best advertisment for Atomic. She has helped make Rohrmoser a rich and powerful man. His factory turned out 32,000 pairs of skis in 1970; last year Atomic's production had exploded to some 700,000 pairs.

It wasn't long before the teen-aged Annemarie was living at the luxurious Rohrmoser villa, where Frau Rohrmoser treated her like royalty, even though Annemarie's prima-donna behavior was insufferable. "She was so demanding," says Rohrmoser, "and my own two daughters felt neglected. Besides, she drank and smoked too much." Annemarie also kept a determined eye on Rohrmoser's ace salesman, Herbert Moser. A strikingly handsome man, nicely muscled from playing soccer, with auburn hair and the rugged, somewhat brutal features of a Western movie villain, he was seven years her senior. But whatever Annemarie wants, Annemarie gets: they eloped in the fall of 1973 and bought a house in Kleinarl. There was gossip that she would not be able to hold him down—he was such a man-about-town—but she did a good job of taming him. After she had the Cafè Annemarie built in 1976, Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll made sure that Herbert tended bar and minded the store while she went off racing. "Doesn't the woman always pickle the man?" she says.

The cafè is loaded with old-world charm and has a broad terrace overlooking the road. There is no mistaking the fact that a ski queen reigns here. The trophy case displays six of the huge crystal globes awarded a World Cup champion. The cafè's china is decorated with World Cups, and autographed World Cup T shirts are for sale at the bar. Next to the entrance, a vending machine dispenses postcards depicting the hostess—at five schillings (38¬¨¬®¬¨¢) apiece. "You get nothing for free here," Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll says.

At first, however, the cafè was mainly a big headache. To build it, Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll got a bank loan of 8 million schillings (about $615,000), but the bills ran much higher than that, closer to 12 million schillings. There was only one way she could solve her financial dilemma: she had to return to racing.

According to Profil, an Austrian magazine, Rohrmoser welcomed Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll back to his stable with a generous offer: 5 million schillings (about $385,000) for the first two seasons. Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll denies this. Officially, all the money paid by the suppliers—Atomic skis, Dachstein boots, Salomon bindings, Komperdell poles, Carrera goggles, etc.—goes to the Austrian Ski Federation, which turns almost all of it back to the skiers as compensation for training and racing 12 months a year. The association will not disclose Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll's earnings, but a conservative guess puts them at $200,000 a year, including prize money for winning or placing. Stenmark is said to make about $300,000. In the U.S., Nelson's and Phil Mahre's contracts amount to some $80,000 each.

And now with the path cleared to another Olympics, taking revenge for Sapporo is foremost in Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll's mind. "Sapporo?" she snaps. A typical snap. "How can I be expected to remember something that happened eight years ago? I have just one goal left in my career—to win a gold medal in Lake Placid." After this season she will retire. Permanently, she says.

Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll didn't start this season in her accustomed style. Last July she turned her right ankle while running and suffered a hairline fracture, her first injury ever. In September, when she was finally able to train on snow, she hooked a slalom gate and crashed, tearing ligaments in her other foot. When the season began in early December, she had had no downhill workouts and too few slalom and GS runs. "Of course, I don't have to train as much as the others," she says. Of course. She won the first slalom at Piancavallo, Italy, and placed second in the downhill there—behind Nadig. When she finished ninth in a GS at Limone Piemonte, Italy, she joked, "I'm saving my strength for the Olympics."

Since then she has won one downhill, at Pfronten, West Germany, and finished second twice. In another downhill at Pfronten she lent her extra-heavy gliding skis to her kid sister Conny, 19, so that Conny could place higher and make the Olympic team. Sis made it, but the generosity probably cost Annemarie a victory. After her latest downhill three weeks ago—another second—she said, "I'll still be better than Nadig in Lake Placid, and, besides, I know how to win there because I did it last year." Which means that one thing is certain: their fight should be a sight to behold.

Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll will even have her own cheering section, 15 Kleinarlers, including Herbert—who's minding the store. Herb?—brother Kurt and the mayor's son, who have been saving for the trip for 18 months. And if Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll returns home an Olympic champ, there will be another one of those lavish receptions Kleinarl staged each time she brought back a World Cup, and everybody will get drunk on champagne.

"Just one gold medal will do," says Moser-Pröll diplomatically, "and I won't have to win the World Cup again. On the other hand, if I don't get a gold medal, I could still win a seventh Cup."

Either way, they'll be whooping it up in Kleinarl.


Moser-Pr‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áll's appraising stare unnerves those who know that she hates—hut hates—to lose.


Typically pouring it on in the downhill, Annemarie applies her courage, and heft, to advantage.


Another downhill bomber, Swiss whiz Nadig is Annemarie's chief rival.