Goodbye to the queen of the snow

Blanca Fernández Ochoa, with her medal in 1992.
Blanca Fernández Ochoa, with her medal in 1992. / EFE
  • Blanca Fernández Ochoa didn't like skiing and only started because her family insisted, and she never recovered from the death of her idol, her brother Paco, in 2006

Her blue eyes always looked sad. Even when she smiled, something she did frequently, there was still sadness in her eyes. Blanca Fernández Ochoa, the first Spanish woman to win a medal in the Winter Olympics, may have changed the history of skiing, but she didn't have an easy life.

Spain was preparing a radical change to its world image with the celebration of Expo in Seville and the Olympics in Barcelona, when this young woman from Carabanchel won a medal in the slalom at the Albertville Games in 1992. It wasn't that much of a surprise, really. Four years earlier, just before her 25th birthday, she had looked likely to win a gold in Canada, in the Winter Games in Calvary, with her daring and risky style. However, at the very last minute she lost control and fell. The whole country cried with her. That had been her chance to copy her brother, the legendary Paco Fernández Ochoa, the first Spanish winter medallist in Sapporo, who she had watched with delight when she was just eight years old.

Paco wasn't just her big brother, he was her hero. She worshipped him. And when he died of cancer in 2006, it opened a wound in her which never healed. Broken with pain, she shaved her head so everyone would understand the immense pain of that loss and that nothing would ever be the same again.

Blanca began to ski when she was six years old, not because she liked it or even wanted to, but because her parents insisted. In fact they sent her to Viella, in the Pyrenees, for training. Her childhood and teenage years involved continual exhausting training sessions, but they paid off when she won her Olympic bronze.

After ending her sking career, she took up other sports such as golf, and did a variety of jobs, including advising firms on how to improve the performance of their executives and managers, running a family sports shop and working for a firm which laundered and cleaned clothing made of leather and textiles.

Now, at the age of 56, the skier with the sad eyes has died on the mountain she loved so much.