Austrian downhill skier
Petra Kronberger dominated women's alpine skiing for a few brief years between 1988 and 1992. Although she skied on the World Cup circuit for fewer than six full seasons, in that time Kronberger won three World Cup overall titles and two Olympic gold medals. Yet her personality was as famous and appreciated in Austria as her winning record. Kronberger prayed when she was nervous, always spoke kindly of her fellow athletes, and never gave off even a whiff of scandal. Even after she became rich and famous, she still rode her bicycle around her tiny hometown, Pfarrwerfen, Austria (population 2,100). For a time Kronberger was even a spokeswoman for a brand of European cocoa drink called Ovomaltine, which is noted for only using modest, down-to-earth, outdoorsy-type people in its advertisements.
Kronberger grew up on a farm in the Alps near Salzburg, Austria. The farm belonged to her maternal grandparents, but her parents were still living there while they saved up the money necessary to build their own house. Her father, Heinrich, drove cement trucks, and her mother, Waltraud, did cleaning and dishwashing. The family also included Kronberger's brother, Robert, who was a year younger than she, but he died of the flu when he was thirteen months old.
Kronberger's father first taught her to ski when she was two. She soon stood out as a champion skier, winning her first trophy in a race at age six. When Kronberger was ten, a development coach noticed her and suggested to her parents that she start training more seriously. This entailed enrolling in a residential school in Bad Gastein, Austria, that combined ski training and academics. Although the Kronbergers had finally built their dream house, with their own hands, money was still tight and the $100 monthly tuition was difficult for them. Yet, as Kron-berger's
mother later explained to Sports Illustrated reporter Anita Verschoth, "We didn't want to be sorry later."
It All Clicked into Place
Kronberger did not disappoint them, although it took her many years to bloom into a world-class skier. She battled homesickness, the challenges of puberty, and a serious injury to her ankle while making excellent grades throughout her years at the school in Bad Gastein and later at Schladming, where she transferred to another skiing school at age fourteen.
When Kronberger graduated, it did not look as if she was going to be able to make a living as a skier, so she took a job as a bank teller at the large Raiffeinsen bank. (Throughout her career, Kronberger continued to work there when she had the time.) But she continued to race, and finally, shortly before her eighteenth birthday, she won her first race on the Europa Cup circuit, one step below the World Cup. Kronberger went on to win three titles in the Austrian juniors division in quick succession. "For two years I had been thinking, I am no good," she recalled to Verschoth. "I'll never be good; I have chosen the wrong profession. Then, suddenly, it all clicked into place."
Three Championship Seasons
Kronberger joined the World Cup circuit in the 1987-88 season. Although she did not win any races that year, she did finish in the top three on occasion, and she was expected to be a contender at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. In the end she did not win any medals in Calgary, but she did give a good performance for an athlete still in her teen years: she finished sixth in the downhill and eleventh in the combined.
Kronberger only won her first World Cup events, two downhill races, in December of 1989, but by the end of that season she had captured the World Cup overall title. This made her an instant hero in Austria: ever since that country's skiing star of the 1970s, Annemarie Pröll (later Moser-Pröll) had retired, the Swiss team had almost completely dominated the alpine world, which had long rankled the Austrian fans.
Kronberger's skiing only improved in the next two seasons, in which she successfully defended her World Cup overall champion title twice. Over the course of thirty-eight days in December, 1990, and January, 1991, Kronberger became the first skier in the modern era to win one race in each of the five alpine events in one season. Four of those wins in all but the combined came in the month of December alone, another notable feat.
Kronberger won a gold medal in her first event, the downhill, at the 1991 world championships, and many observers were expecting her to go on to win as many as four more. However, she fell in her second event, the Super-G, and injured her right knee, forcing her to miss the rest of the races. (Despite her fall, she still finished sixth in that event.) Her performances at the Olympics the next year in Albertville, France, were equally solid. She went home with two gold medals, one in the slalom and one in the combined, and she finished a respectable fourth in the Super-G and fifth in the slalom.
|1969||Born February 21 in Pfarwerfen, Austria|
|1988||Competes in Olympics for the first time|
|1989||Wins first World Cup event, a downhill race in Panorama|
|1990||Wins four World Cup races in the month of December|
|1991||Pulls out of world championships after second event after suffering a knee injury during the Super-G|
|1992||Quits competitive skiing early in the 1992-93 season|
Awards and Accomplishments
|Won a total of sixteen World Cup events between 1989 and 1991.|
|1990||World Cup, overall|
|1991||World Championships, downhill|
|1991||World Cup, overall|
|1992||World Cup, overall|
Retiring a Hero
By the beginning of the 1992-93 season, the pressures of being the star of the long-overshadowed Austrian team were beginning to wear on Kronberger. She had lost her motivation to compete, she said, and her weak results in the first few events of that season showed it. Only a few months into the season, she quit the Austrian national team and went back to Pfarwerfen. Still, the Swiss national team's decade-long dominance of the skiing world had been broken, and Kronberger's Austrian compatriots will long remember her for that.
Verschoth, Anita. "A Pair of Queens." Sports Illustrated, (January 27, 1992): 50-53.
"Petra Kronberger." The History of the Ski World Cup. http://ski-db.com/db/profiles/wkrnpe.asp (January 22, 2003).
"Petra Kronberger: Alpine Come From Behind." International Olympic Committee. http://www.olympic.org/uk/athletes/heroes/bio_uk.asp?PAR_I_ID=471 (January 22, 2003).
"Petra Krongerger: Overview." SKI-DB. http://ski-db.com/db/profiles/wkrnpe.asp (January 22, 2003).
Sketch by Julia Bauder