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One winter day three ski seasons ago, Franco Magoni, a crusty little man with bushy gray hair and eyebrows, installed a press in the Milan headquarters of Italy's major sports daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport. When the job was done, Magoni, still in his grimy work clothes, planted himself before the desk of La Gazzetta writer Gianni Merlo and barked in the dialect of the mountains of Northern Italy, "Why do you never write about my daughter Paola?" Mind you, at the time Paola was a young skier on the Italian national team who finished way back in World Cup races, but in her proud father's eyes that should not have prevented Merlo from giving Paola some ink.
Two years after this encounter, there was a lot to write about Franco's daughter. On Feb. 17, 1984 Paola stunned the ski world by winning the Olympic slalom. At only 19, she was the first Italian woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal in Alpine racing and the first woman to bring home a medal of any color from a Winter Olympiad since '76. Before Sarajevo her best World Cup slalom finish had been a sixth in '84 at Limone Piemonte, Italy. She was lucky just to be on the Italian Olympic team.
But in the dense fog of Sarajevo's Jahorina Mountain, Paola proved to be a 5'1", 115-pound package of dynamite—something that Franco had suspected all along. It was he who had started her on her way to the medaglia d'oro when in 1975 he founded the Ski Team Magoni, a racing group consisting of Paola and three of her brothers and sisters.
The Magonis' home village of Selvino (pop. about 2,000) is an hour's drive from Milan, along the autostrada past Bergamo and then up a serpentine road. It's a tidy, prosperous-looking place where affluent Milanese keep weekend homes. Franco, 42, a handyman, ski fanatic and local gadfly, and his wife, Margherita, have raised their children here: Livio, 21; Paola; Oscar, 17; Sonia, 18; and Francesca-Pr�ll, who is seven. Franco had wanted to name his youngest daughter Moser-Pr�ll, after Annemarie Moser-Pr�ll, Austria's downhill queen of the '70s and early '80s, but the priest who officiated at the child's baptism objected.
For Franco skiing was never a pastime. After teaching his children the rudiments, he planted poles down a slope to make a slalom course for them. Soon the Magonis were spending every winter weekend training or racing. Franco drove his children to meets in an ancient Ford bus with SKI TEAM MAGONI on the front; during races he would zip up and down the course on his black snowmobile, screaming instructions.
Livio never made the Italian team, but he is a good enough skier to have become a coach of Monaco's one-man 1984 Olympic team. Oscar joined the army ski team. Sonia made the national B team. But Paola was the one with the most talent. For her, Franco sacrificed the most.
"Paola was different from her brothers and sisters," says Margherita. "When she wanted something, she had to have it. When she began to race, and she was only seven then, she always had to be first. Her father saw that she could be the best in Italy, and he did everything for her to be someone special someday."
"Did I push her?" Franco repeats a question he's often asked. "Damn well I did! I didn't push her with my hands'. I pushed her with a car!"
Franco bought the finest equipment; he hired experienced coaches. Whenever a coach wasn't strict enough with Paola, Franco would fire him and look for a new one. He sold the Magonis' three-story house and moved them into a much smaller home, an old, steeply gabled house out of a Grimm brothers fairy tale, to get money for Paola's development. He transformed one basement room into a ski shop and another into a trophy room—now filled with 10 years' worth of cups, bowls, medals and ribbons.
"The people of Selvino call me Crazy-man," says Franco. "They said, 'Why don't you use your money to build a new house, to buy a new car?' "