Recent reports indicate that sexual assault in the world of Austrian skiing in the 1970s can no longer be dismissed as isolated incidents. A second downhill racer has now spoken out about violence and abuse of power.
It didn't take long for the reactions to start pouring in. Last month, former World Cup ski racer Nicola Werdenigg spoke openly about sexual violence in the world of skiing in the 1970s in an account published in DER STANDARD. "There were attacks by coaches, attendants and teammates," the 59-year-old Tyrol resident told the newspaper, describing her experiences in the top echelons of the sport. She said it was a period dominated by sexist abuse of power. "I can only confirm that – 100 percent!" another former World Cup ski racer told DER STANDARD. She did not want to be quoted by name for this story, but the newspaper knows her identity.
Werdenigg, Austrian downhill champion in 1975 and a fourth-place finisher at the 1976 Olympics, spoke of attacks and even of being raped by a male teammate. She was 16 at the time. "I blamed myself, as young women often do," she said.
"Her account really moved me," a former female teammate said a short time later. "I stand behind Nicola – something happened to everyone at the time." Out of consideration for her family, the woman said she did not want to be identified by name. She did, however, back up Werdenigg's account. "She wasn't the only one. But at the time, nobody dared to say anything. It was impossible to talk about it. I really had to fight to keep worse things from happening to me."
'Please, Anyone But Him'
She said warding off attacks was difficult at the time. "I had to defend myself with my hands and feet. I always told myself that I would not allow myself to be broken." The former athlete also went into detail in describing her own experiences. "We were abroad. In our hotel, I was walking down the hallway in broad daylight when a door opened and I was grabbed and pulled into a room by a coach. He said that it was my turn today. I thought, please, anyone but him. There was another man in the room as well. I was thrown onto the bed. They were both drunk. It was extremely brutal."
The ski racer said she managed to fend off the attack with great effort but that her hand had "nearly been broken." She then locked herself in a bathroom and waited for the men to leave.
Werdenigg described such conditions as being "normal," saying that's just the way things were at the time. "That's true," said her racing colleague, the attacks were almost expected. "You went to sleep and suddenly somebody was lying next to you."
She said that not all from the time deserved to be "lumped together – there were different types of people. But there was one coach who viewed the women on the team as his girls. He reserved all rights for himself. It was a kind of tradition." Alcohol also always played an important role. "There was a lot of it around and it resulted in the dropping of inhibitions."
Nevertheless, she said that she still managed to have fun racing through the years she spent on the World Cup circuit – in part thanks to the success she experienced. "I liked being a ski racer – the sport was my life." Did she ever consider encouraging her children to pursue a career in skiing? "No, I didn't want my children to be subjected to all that I had seen and experienced. I wanted them to be exposed to better, more respectful treatment. After all, we were fair game."
BU: "In our hotel, I was walking down the hallway in broad daylight when a door opened and I was grabbed and pulled into a room by a coach. He said that it was my turn today." (By Philip Bauer; Translated by Daryl Lindsey)