Australia’s oldest living Olympian, Frank Prihoda, is celebrating his 100th birthday today in his beloved home town of Thredbo Village in the NSW Snowy Mountains.
- Australia’s oldest living Olympian, Frank Prihoda, turns 100 today
- Mr Prihoda competed in the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in the slalom events
- He last hit the slopes when he was 90, but his passion for skiing remains
Mr Prihoda was born into the Great Depression, and his adventurous century of life since has had as many twists and turns as any slalom event he’s competed in.
The chapters include: early tragedy, defection, emigration, business success and, of course, fulfilling an Olympic dream.
Mr Prihoda was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1921 and learned to ski with his older sister Sasha as a child.
His passion and talent for the sport eventually saw him competing as an Olympian for a country on the other side of the world, when he represented Australia in the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in the giant slalom and slalom events.
Recalling that momentous achievement, Mr Prihoda said the races were almost jeopardised by inadequate snow cover at the Italian venue in Cortina D’Amprezzo.
“Because of the lack of snow, we were concerned, would it be held?” Mr Prihoda recalled.
“The day before the race, the fire brigade came to the slope and sprayed the whole mountain with water. It froze. It was like an ice-skating rink.
“As a result, a lot of racers came to grief [at] the third gate … I managed to hang on but I didn’t really measure up. I finished in the middle of the field.”
But the passion has never left him and Mr Prihoda did not hang up his skis until he was 90.
“Sometimes I miss it of course,” he said.
Not all downhill trials were on ski slopes
Prior to the Olympics, Mr Prihoda had a challenging life.
Following the unexpected and untimely deaths of his parents in 1937, Mr Prihoda, then just 16 years old, took over the family’s artificial flower manufacturing business, which he managed throughout World War II.
When Czechoslovakia became communist, he fled the country on his skis, escaping across the border into Austria.
Mr Prihoda and his family then emigrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne in 1950.
His early business ventures involved artificial flowers, furniture and textiles. But skiing was never far from his mind and he often took to the slopes at Mount Buller, in the Victorian Alps, where his talent was quickly spotted, leading to his selection for the 1956 Olympic team.
Calling Thredbo home
It was Mr Prihoda’s lifelong friendship with one of Thredbo Village’s founders, Tony Sponar, who he first met as a teenager in Czechoslovakia, that eventually led him to move from Victoria to the NSW Snowy Mountains in 1974.
He also had a family connection to the town through his sister and fellow Olympian Sasha Nekvapil, who started one of the first ski-lodge businesses in Thredbo.
“My sister was a racing star in Europe,” he said.
“She and her husband Karel Nekvapil opened a lodge in 1959, which is now called Black Bear Inn.
Mr Prihoda ran a gift store, Frank’s Shop, at Thredbo for 27 years and only retired when he turned 80.
He and his sister both have ski runs at Thredbo named after them.
Another proud moment for Mr Prihoda was when he carried the Olympic torch in Thredbo in 2000, and lit the cauldron in the village.
He says Thredbo has come a long way as a ski resort since he first arrived.
“By today’s standard, Thredbo was very small. The mechanical installations were not as good,” he said.
When Mr Prihoda celebrates his 100th birthday today, he will be surrounded by snow and mountains, as he has been for his entire life.