Rosi Mittermaier, a West German Alpine skier who won two gold medals and one silver at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, and went on to become a hugely popular figure back home, died Jan. 4 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. She was 72.
Her family said that she died after a severe illness, the German news agency DPA reported.
Mittermaier nearly achieved the unprecedented feat of winning three women’s Alpine skiing events at a single Olympics. She won the slalom and the downhill, but Kathy Kreiner, an 18-year-old Canadian, bested her by .12 seconds in the giant slalom.
Americans could take pride in Dorothy Hamill’s figure-skating gold medal that year, but Mittermaier emerged as the star of the Games.
“Now, suddenly, she was famous,” Sports Illustrated wrote. “Flowers were strewn across the bed in her hotel room. Soldiers guarded the stairway. From time to time she would step out onto the balcony and favor the crowds with a dimpled smile and friendly wave.”
The Associated Press said that she “wore her omnipresent smile when she took off her goggles.”
Mittermaier also clinched the Alpine Ski World Cup later that season as she earned the nickname Gold-Rosi.
“Rosi Mittermaier was a very charming and credible ambassador of sport, who always approached people openly and in a humble way,” Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, said in a statement a day after her death. “She inspired all of us with her warmth and her smile. For all these reasons, and not only because of her two Olympic gold medals, she will always be remembered as Gold-Rosi by all of us.”
Her triumphs were hardly expected. Though she had won 16 German national ski titles, Mittermaier had never captured a major downhill race in her 10 years of World Cup competition and had not earned a medal at the two previous Winter Olympics.
But she downplayed the importance of Olympic medals. She believed they were far less important than winning a World Cup title after a full season, viewing that as symbol of excellence and consistency over a period of several months. She also said that the key to success in skiing was in having fun with it.
“One should not take ski racing too seriously,” she said. “I have had some very bad results in my career from doing just that.”
Mittermaier retired from international Alpine skiing in May 1976 at age 25. She would remain a popular figure. She recalled in a 2020 interview with the DPA that her letter carrier struggled to deliver 27,000 pieces of fan mail to her parents’ home one month.
She was named West Germany’s Sportswoman of the Year in 1976, received the country’s Order of Merit in 2005 and was inducted into the German Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Rosa Anna Katharina Mittermaier was born in Munich on Aug. 5, 1950. A twin sister died at birth. When she was young, her parents, Rosa and Heinrich Mittermaier, moved the family to the village of Reit im Winkl in Bavaria. Her father, a certified ski instructor, became her first trainer.
After her skiing career, Mittermaier joined International Management Group, a well-known sports and entertainment agency run by Mark McCormack, joining the celebrated athletes Jean-Claude Killy, Jackie Stewart and Bjorn Borg. In her three years with the agency, Mittermaier designed winter sports clothing and made international appearances for ski products.
She was a commentator for major sports events on German television and created a foundation to aid children with rheumatism.
Her husband, Christian Neureuther, won six World Cup slalom races. Their son, Felix Neureuther, was also a World Cup ski racer, and their daughter, Ameli, worked as a fashion designer. Mittermaier’s sisters Evi and Heidi were Alpine skiers. (Information on survivors was not immediately available.)
Mittermaier didn’t express disappointment at failing to sweep the Alpine skiing events.
“It would be very unfitting if I was not satisfied with two gold medals and a silver,” she told The A.P.