With all eyes on Mikaela Shiffrin as the new World Cup ski season kicks off in Soelden this weekend, one of those cheering the 28-year-old American on is Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Proell.
“It’s incredible what she’s doing, and she’ll continue to win,” Moser-Proell told AFP in an interview in her native Alpine village of Kleinarl.
Already with a record 88 World Cup victories under her belt, Shiffrin is now just one short of equalling Moser-Proell’s record of six big crystal globes.
But Shiffrin’s success and the strong possibility she will take her record outright over the next couple of years does not bother Moser-Proell who set the standards in the 1970s.
Apart from those six overall titles, five of them in succession, the Austrian won 62 World Cup races, third behind Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, five world championships and an Olympic gold medal.
Her place in skiing history is secure, whatever Shiffrin does over the next few years.
“I’m at a certain age where it (the number of globes) no longer plays any role for me,” said Moser-Proell, who was crowned as the 20th century’s best female skier.
“Shiffrin is just as exceptional a talent as (Austrian retired ski champions) Marcel Hirscher or Hermann Maier,” added the 70-year-old, who won her first four titles as Annemarie Proell before getting married.
She said it was hard to compare the statistics of wins now and then as the race calendar was fuller now.
Besides that, skiing “has changed completely” as the material has developed – and slopes are better prepared.
“We often started races on slopes, where no one would go down today,” she said.
Growing up with seven siblings on a farm at 1,230 metres (4,035 feet) altitude, young Annemarie skied downhill every day to reach school and was among those who pushed for her village to have a ski club.
“When we were kids, we always asked if we could watch TV when a race was being broadcast. So from childhood on, we had this enthusiasm,” she recalled.
Moser-Proell credits her success on her early instructors – two brothers, passionate about the sport in ski-mad Austria – combined with “a certain portion of talent and also the will to succeed”.
Her career took off when the national team trainer saw her training on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier and immediately offered her a place on his team.
At 14, she raced her first World Cup race. She took her first podium when she was 15 – she is still the youngest to do this in downhill – and her first victory ensued a year later when she was only 16.
“Once you won a race, that really got you going” to win more, Moser-Proell recalls today, in front of a glass cupboard full of trophies.
Her most cherished moment is her first big globe win in 1971 – when she raced against a “might” of more experienced French skiers.
Four more big globes followed, and then in 1975, Moser-Proell shocked the ski world by announcing her retirement, causing her to miss the 1976 Olympics.
She wanted to stay with her father who had cancer and get away from outside pressures.
“Of course, I was under pressure. Above all, there was no help back then” such as a spokesperson or manager, she said.
After her father died in June 1976, she returned to the piste, winning her final overall title in 1979 and bagging Olympic gold in 1980, her most important moment.
“I had everything. Just Olympic gold was missing,” she recalls.
Once retired for good after the Lake Placid Olympics, she dedicated herself to a completely new career – as a chef in the cafe that she and her husband had built and opened in 1976 in her village – and having a daughter.
“They (people) didn’t believe it. When they asked ‘where is Annemarie?’ and the server told them: ‘she is in the cellar, in the bakery’. No, nobody believed it,” she laughs.
She said she would like to be remembered “as a friend rather than being put on a pedestal… I want to be a local, like everyone else”.
Today, she still enjoys skiing, as much as e-biking, playing tennis and hunting – a sport passed on through the generations in her family.
“My main project. Stay healthy, do a lot of sports as long as possible. Yes, and enjoy life,” she smiles.
Moser-Proell still watches World Cup races Classics like Schladming or Kitzbuehel she would not miss as it is “skiing in the purest form”.
As for the others, if the weather is good, she would rather go skiing herself.