Maybe all this goes back to Moser-Pröll's first World Cup downhill, in Bad Gastein in 1968. She fell three times, but she finished—in last place. Few skiers would have continued after the first fall. "She has always been like that," says Hauserl Schwaighofer, Moser-Pröll's personal "racer-chaser," who has waxed her skis for 10 years. "She never gives up."
Then came a stunning performance a year later in the St. Gervais downhill. Pröll (she, of course, had not yet married Herbert Moser) started back among the nobodies, in 67th position, but with a tremendous 30-foot leap off the top of the final schuss she tied for second with France's ace, Annie Famose. The following year she made her country's A team, scoring her first World Cup victory in a GS at Maribor, Yugoslavia and winning the bronze medal in the downhill at the world championships in Val Gardena. In 1971, at 17, she became the youngest racer ever to take the overall World Cup.
Annemarie went to the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo as a confident favorite in the downhill and the GS, but she was beaten in both by Nadig. The reason for the upset, many observers feel, was the Karl Schranz Affair, which destroyed the unity and morale of the Austrian team. It was not so much that Schranz was disqualified for being a professional that upset his teammates; it was his demand—backed by coaches and team officials—that, as a gesture of solidarity, the others refuse to compete. Annemarie figured that Schranz had nobody to blame but himself. After all, what self-respecting amateur racer would disclose his earnings at a time when the term "broken-time payments" hadn't been invented? "What he is asking he would never do for me," Annemarie said. For days she didn't know whether or not she would be able to race. There was no training. When the Austrians finally decided that their team was to compete after all, the racers were emotionally shot. Annemarie won two silver medals, cried a lot and, when she got home, attached a metal plaque to the dashboard of her car, which read: NEVER FORGET SAPPORO.
Perhaps her long memory has contributed to her untoward behavior. Upon losing a race, Moser-Pröll has flown into a tantrum, throwing down her poles and running off the hill in tears. When teammate Monika Kaserer won a few races and began to share the limelight, they became bitter enemies. Moser-Pröll trained very hard when she felt like it, but she usually didn't feel like it when the weather was bad. In the January 1975 races in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Coach Sigi Bernegger threatened to send her home because she was forever disregarding his rules. The following day Moser-Pröll won the GS and, the day after that, the downhill. Then she stirred up a rebellion against Bernegger which got him fired at the end of the season. In March, after winning her fifth Cup, she up and retired, even though the Innsbruck Olympics and a possible Olympic gold were only a year away.
It wasn't the specter of another humiliation à la Sapporo, Moser-Pröll explained. It was just that she was tired of traveling, tired of fighting with the officials and Alois Rohrmoser, the owner of the Atomic Company, which supplied her skis. It was said that Rohrmoser gave her fast cars but was very stingy with the cash. She wanted a quiet life with her husband of 1½ years and had to look after her ailing father. It wasn't until after Josef Pröll died in 1976 that Annemarie began to train again. She returned to racing in December of that year and promptly proved that she had lost none of her spark, but much of her temper. She won as often as before, but now when she lost she laughed, cracking, "How come nobody congratulates me today?" She became downright popular.
It was no secret that her comeback was prompted in large part by an acute need for funds. As it turned out, it was not only a blessing for her and her husband but for all of Kleinarl.
Moser-Pröll's hometown is a cluster of some 200 houses nestled under the craggy Ennskraxn, which guards the valley like an 8,500-foot watchtower. Until recently Kleinarl was poor, but now the place is jumping. It used to have only one T-bar lift; now a great network of lifts is in place, which has become accessible this winter to visitors via a new autobahn interchange. "La Pröll gets her very own freeway exit," wrote Die Presse when the project got under way. "Every year we are adding a hundred beds," says one innkeeper. "It was more gemütlich in the old days, but now we have business. Everybody wants to come to Kleinarl. Annemarie has now put Kleinarl on the map."
Annemirl, as the Kleinarlers call her, grew up on a farm 600 feet above the village. The sixth of eight children, she learned how to round up the cows and bring in hay and firewood. She also learned how to ski, when she was four, on skis made by her father.
Rohrmoser first saw Annemarie when she was 13, winning a downhill on a battered pair of wooden Fischer skis with cable bindings. Rohrmoser is no dummy: he presented her with a new pair of his Atomic metal skis and outfitted her in the latest racing garb. In the years since, Rohrmoser has managed to keep her on his skis, despite lucrative offers from other manufacturers, and Moser-Pröll has been the best advertisment for Atomic. She has helped make Rohrmoser a rich and powerful man. His factory turned out 32,000 pairs of skis in 1970; last year Atomic's production had exploded to some 700,000 pairs.
It wasn't long before the teen-aged Annemarie was living at the luxurious Rohrmoser villa, where Frau Rohrmoser treated her like royalty, even though Annemarie's prima-donna behavior was insufferable. "She was so demanding," says Rohrmoser, "and my own two daughters felt neglected. Besides, she drank and smoked too much." Annemarie also kept a determined eye on Rohrmoser's ace salesman, Herbert Moser. A strikingly handsome man, nicely muscled from playing soccer, with auburn hair and the rugged, somewhat brutal features of a Western movie villain, he was seven years her senior. But whatever Annemarie wants, Annemarie gets: they eloped in the fall of 1973 and bought a house in Kleinarl. There was gossip that she would not be able to hold him down—he was such a man-about-town—but she did a good job of taming him. After she had the Café Annemarie built in 1976, Moser-Pröll made sure that Herbert tended bar and minded the store while she went off racing. "Doesn't the woman always pickle the man?" she says.