Reichert seals solitary German title

Picture by Getty Images

Born in the Bavarian Alps on 25 July 1925, Ossi Reichert (GER) excelled on the slopes as a child and would go on to become one of the greatest female skiers of her generation. In 1948, she was unable to showcase her skills on the global stage in St. Moritz, due to Germany’s exclusion in the wake of the Second World War. At Oslo 1952, she finally got her chance, and only lost out on a gold medal to Andrea Mead-Lawrence (USA) in the slalom by 0.8 seconds, after registering the best time of the first run.

At the beginning of 1954, Reichert badly injured her ankle, a setback which saw her sidelined from the slopes for an entire season. The resilient German recovered in time for the Winter Games in Cortina, but nothing much was really expected of her.

The women’s giant slalom was the first final of the Games, held on 27 January on Mount Tofana’s Canalone run, a 1,366m long course featuring 46 gates and a vertical drop of 408m. There were 49 competitors vying for the gold medal. Reichert was the first skier to depart.

“Ossi was really disappointed to have drawn the number one bib,” remarked her Austrian rival, Josefine “Putzi” Frandl. “It’s usually not a good position to be in. The first racers always have to deal with a bit of extra snow on the run, which tends to slow them down. But Ossi overcame that and produced a great run.”

Indeed, Reichert attacked the piste with a mixture of technical brilliance and precision, arriving at the bottom in 1:56.50. All that remained was for her to wait and watch every single other entrant try – and fail – to match that excellent time. Frandl came closest (1:57.80), while another Austrian, Dorothea Hochleitner, took the bronze medal in 1:58.20. Mead-Lawrence, the defending champion, was joint fourth with Switzerland’s Madeleine Berthod (1:58.30), who famously fell and got back up to finish the race.

Remarkably, Reichert, who also finished 20th in the downhill and was disqualified from the slalom, was the only medal winner representing the “United Team of Germany” at the 1956 Winter Games. That same winter, the 30-year-old landed three national titles (slalom, giant slalom and combined), before bringing her sporting career to an end in favour of managing the family-owned hotel at the foot of the Ofterschwang ski resort.