Australia’s oldest living Olympian turns 100
Frank Prihoda, Australia’s oldest living Olympian, is celebrating his 100th birthday today at his home in Thredbo Village in the NSW Snowy Mountains.
Born into the Great Depression, Mr Prihoda has experienced both highs and lows across his century of life, including early tragedy, defection, emigration, running a business, and fulfilling an Olympic dream.
Mr Prihoda was born in 1921 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and learned to ski as a child with his older sister Sasha.
His passion and talent saw him eventually representing a country on the other side of the world, when he competed in the 1956 Winter Olympics Games on the Australian team in the giant slalom and slalom events.
Recalling the achievement, Mr Prihoda said inadequate snow cover almost jeopardised the races, held at the Italian venue in Cortina D’Ampezzo.
“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.”
Mr Prihoda continued to ski until he was 90.
“Sometimes I miss it of course,” he said.
“You get these moods and think, ‘What a pity, I would love to be up there’. But it doesn’t bother me all that much now.”
In his early life, Mr Prihoda faced trials off the slopes.
After the unexpected deaths of his parents in 1937, Mr Prihoda, who was just 16, took over the family’s artificial flower manufacturing business and managed it through World War II.
When Czechoslovakia became communist, he escaped the country on his skis, entering Austria before he and his family emigrated to Melbourne in 1950.
“I knew there was snow in Australia, so I brought my skis with me,” he said.
Though he started business ventures involving artificial flowers, furniture, and textiles, Mr Prihoda would take to the slopes at Mount Buller, in the Victorian Alps, when he could.
While skiing there, his talent was quickly spotted and he would eventually be selected for the 1956 Olympic team.
Years after his Olympic ventures, Mr Prihoda would move from Victoria to the NSW Snowy Mountains in 1974, as both his fellow Olympian sister and a childhood friend were already there.
“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.
“I had a close contact with Thredbo for many years before I came to settle in.”
Mr Prihoda ran a gift shop, Frank’s Store, at Thredbo for 27 years until he retired at 80.
When Mr Prihoda celebrates his birthday, he will be surrounded by the familiar scenery of snow and mountains.View this post on Instagram
Image: Thredbo Resort