Liechtenstein: The little country that could win medals

Hanni Wenzel
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Liechtenstein has a population of a little less than 40,000. That’s less than the population of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Fond du Lac isn’t without its share of successful athletes, including 2007 U.S. high jump champion Jim Dilling and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But it would be hard-pressed to match Liechtenstein’s Olympic medal tally: two gold, two silver and six bronze.

The breakthrough was in the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, when Willi Frommelt took bronze in men’s slalom and Hanni Wenzel took bronze in women’s slalom.

Four years later, Wenzel was the most dominant Alpine skier of Lake Placid’s Olympics. She took gold in the slalom and giant slalom, and she showed her versatility with a silver medal in the downhill. Her brother, Andi Wenzel, earned a silver medal in giant slalom. With four total medals, Liechtenstein tied mighty Austria atop the 1980 medal count in Alpine skiing.

Hanni Wenzel’s Olympic success wasn’t a surprise. She won her first World Cup season title in giant slalom in 1974 and was the overall champion in 1978 and 1980. Andi Wenzel also won the overall championship on the men’s side in 1980.

Andi came back in 1984 in Sarajevo to pick up another giant slalom medal, this time a bronze. Ursula Konzett, the country’s flag bearer in 1976, added a bronze in women’s slalom, a bit of a surprise given her lack of World Cup success.

The last medal of this stretch went to Paul Frommelt, Willi’s brother, who finally broke through at age 30 with a bronze in slalom in 1988. The Frommelts’ father, Christof Frommelt, represented Liechtenstein in cross-country skiing at the 1948 Games. Another Frommelt sibling, Peter Frommelt, was a Paralympian in table tennis.

With the retirements of the Wenzel and Frommelt siblings, who accounted for all but one of the country’s medals to this point, Liechtenstein hit a dry patch for a while.

But the drought ended in 2018, when Tina Weirather took bronze in super-G to cap a career marred by injuries that kept her out of the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Weirather had recovered to win the World Cup super-G season titles in 2017 and 2018, accomplishing nearly everything she put on a list of goals she jotted down while she was injured at age 17.

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When I wrote this, I was 17 years old. I was at home with 2 injured knees – my best World Cup result to date was an 8th place. I was working with a sport psychologist, to get over the fact that I just hurt both my knees. I remember I was a little ashamed of this list… I took care no one saw it, I didn’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. Naive. Unrealistic. I forgot about the book – until I found it again, this fall, cleaning out my office. I had tears in my eyes, cause it seemed like a very far away, but unimaginably beautiful and strong dream back then, and now I can look back and think ‚I did it‘. I’m grateful I found this, cause in the process I didn’t feel like achieving everything I wanted – When I won silver, I wanted gold. When I had 2 crystal globes, I wanted a third. That drive makes athletes successful. Yet in the end, if you write down your wildest dreams when you were 17, and they became true – enjoy it, and don’t have any regrets. #retirement #nextlife #thankyou

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Weirather’s medal brought the Wenzel family total to seven — two for her uncle Andi and four for her mother, Hanni.

Liechtenstein also has one Paralympic medal Josef Gmeiner‘s bronze in the B1-2 slalom in 1994.

With Weirather’s retirement this year, Liechtenstein’s presence in Alpine skiing has dimmed. Marco Pfiffner earned World Cup points for the first time this season with a 29th-place finish in a combined event. Weirather is the only woman from Liechtenstein to earn World Cup points since Marina Nigg did so in the 2011-12 season.

Ten medals, though, may provide some inspiration for skiers on the slopes of the Maldun ski resort.

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