Sunday, September 04, 2011

MY CHAMPION: Paco Francisco Fernandez Ochoa

MY CHAMPION: Paco Francisco Fernandez Ochoa

by Paolo De Chiesa

Ochoa, winning the Gold Medal in 1972 Sapporo Olympics

The son of a businessman, Francisco Fernandez Ochoa, better known as Paco, was born in Madrid, Spain on February 25th 1950. I will never forget his words full of emotion and excitement shouted to broadcasters all over the world: "I'm Spanish, I'm a student, I'm happy...".
I was 16 at the time and I was glued to the television screen watching the Olympics of Sapporo (1972). I was rooting for Thoeni, leader of the historical line-up of skiers that I had the Honor of joining a few years later. But the first run of that Slalom was won by a Spanish lightning bolt. Ochoa had shattered Gustavo, leaving him one second and 33 hundredths behind.... The mythical Italian standard-bearer and his cousin Rolando could do nothing about it: they had to be satisfied serving as escorts to the podium of the most incredulous and enthusiastic young athlete of skiing history.

Before then, Paco had never won anything and he was the first Spaniard ever to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games (either Winter or Summer), and what's more, most people had never even heard of him. This exploit raised him immediately to the ranks of national hero and when he returned to Spain from Japan, he was welcomed in his homeland by an immense crowd that bestowed on him honors and glory previously reserved only for the legendary bullfighters Dominguin and El Cordobes.

We became friends even before joining the ranks of the World Cup because Paco, who along with his brother Manuel didn't snub the lesser slalom races of the European Cup were younger racers competed. Before this great victory Paco was a young man of irrepressibly fun-loving and friendly. He was just a regular guy, never boastful or bragging nor making his popularity a burden. His jovial bantering and down-to earth personality profoundly struck us young skiers, who dreamed of becoming champions like him; he was a unique model of simplicity and modesty.

After his Olympic triumph, Ochoa succeeded in winning another a World Cup race, in 1974 at Zakopane, and in the same season he captured a bronze medal at St. Moritz at the historical World Alpine Championship slalom won by Gustavo Thoeni.

If his above-mentioned brother did not have the same lucky career, Paco's footsteps were followed with greater success by his sister Blanca, who won four times in the World Cup, came very close to the gold medal at the Calgary Olympics before falling a few gates from the finish line of the Giant Slalom, and took the bronze in the Slalom at the Olympics of Albertville.

When I think of Paco, I remember that unmistakable Matador style he used to gracefully avoid the Slalom gates, and the elegance of his sportswear, bright yellow and red. When he sped downhill, he looked like he was in a bullring.

After retiring from the World Cup Ski Racing, Paco became a manager and still today he is extremely popular in Spain. He is a good friend of King Juan Carlos and travels with the King on ski vacations. He organized the World Championships of Sierra Nevada (1996) and even today, on the during great Alpine events, he is a television commentator entertaining listeners with his cheerful and witty remarks. When we meet it is always a splendid party, with slaps on the back and never-ending "cabrĂ³n"... as we used to jokingly call each other in the good old days of racing.

Video from Spanish TV


Post a Comment

<< Home