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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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record was the product of pain, rain

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When Eliud Kipchoge broke the marathon world record in Berlin on Sunday, he began his celebration near the finish line by doing the same thing he did upon breaking the record in Berlin four years earlier.

He hugged longtime coach Patrick Sang.

The embrace was brief. Not much was said. They shook hands, Kipchoge appeared to stop his watch and Sang wiped his pupil’s sweaty face off with a towel. Kipchoge continued on his congratulatory tour.

“It felt good,” Sang said by phone from his native Kenya on Thursday. “I told him, ‘I’m proud of you and what you have achieved today.'”

Later, they met again and reflected together on the 2:01:09 performance, chopping 30 seconds off his world record in 2018 in the German capital.

“I mentioned to him that probably it was slightly a little bit too fast in the beginning, in the first half,” Sang said of Kipchoge going out in 59 minutes, 51 seconds for the first 13.1 miles (a sub-two-hour pace he did not maintain in the final miles). “But he said he felt good.

“Besides that, I think it was just to appreciate the effort that he put in in training. Sometimes, if you don’t acknowledge that, then it looks like you’re only looking at the performance. We looked at the sacrifice.”

Sang thought about the abnormally wet season in southwestern Kenya, where Kipchoge logs his daily miles more than a mile above sea level.

“Sometimes he had to run in the rain,” said Sang, the 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist. “Those are small things you reflect and say, it’s worth sacrificing sometimes. Taking the pain training, and it pays off.”

When Sang analyzes his athletes, he looks beyond times. He studies their faces.

The way Kipchoge carried himself in the months leading into Berlin — running at 6 a.m. “rain or shine,” Sang said — reminded the coach of the runner’s sunny disposition in the summer of 2019. On Oct. 12 of that year, Kipchoge clocked 1:59:40 in the Austrian capital in a non-record-eligible event (rather than a traditional race) to become the first person to cover 26.2 miles on foot in less than two hours.

Sang said he does not discuss time goals with his students — “Putting specific targets puts pressure on the athlete, and you can easily go the wrong direction,” he said.

In looking back on the race, there is some wonder whether Kipchoge’s plan was to see how long he could keep a pace of sub-two hours. Sang refused to speculate, but he was not surprised to see Kipchoge hit the halfway point 61 seconds faster than the pacers’ prescribed 60:50 at 13.1 miles.

“Having gone two hours in Monza [2:00:25 in a sub-two-hour attempt in 2017], having run the unofficial 1:59 and so many times 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, the potential was written all over,” Sang said. “So I mean, to think any differently would be really under underrating the potential. Of course, then adding on top of that the aspect of the mental strength. He has a unique one.”

Kipchoge slowed in the second half, but not significantly. He started out averaging about 2 minutes, 50 seconds per kilometer (equivalent to 13.2 miles per hour). He came down to 2:57 per kilometer near the end.

Regret is not in Kipchoge’s nature. We may never know the extent of his sub-two thoughts on Sunday. Sang noted that Kipchoge, whose marathon career began a decade ago after he failed to make the London Olympic team on the track, does not dwell on the past.

“If you talk to him now, he probably is telling you about tomorrow,” Sang joked.

The future is what is intriguing about Kipchoge. Approaching 38 years old, he continues to improve beyond peak age for almost every elite marathoner. Can Kipchoge go even faster? It would likely require a return next year to Berlin, whose pancake-flat roads produced the last eight men’s marathon world records. But Kipchoge also wants to run, and win, another prestigious fall marathon in New York City.

Sang can see the appeal of both options in 2023 and leaves the decision to Kipchoge and his management team.

‘If we can find the motivation for him, or he finds it within himself, that he believes he can still run for some time, for a cause, for a reason … I think the guy can still even do better than what he did in Berlin,” Sang said. “We are learning a lot about the possibilities of good performance at an advanced age. It’s an inspiration and should be an inspiration for anybody at any level.”

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