I don’t know why everyone’s making such a big fuss,” says Rosi Mittermaier in what’s left of her German accent. “I just get a little lucky and BOOM! All this happens to me.”
“All this” is the heroine worship that has enveloped Mittermaier, 26, since she won two skiing gold medals at the 1976 Winter Olympics. She is broadcasting World Cup skiing for a West German TV network, writing her autobiography, endorsing a line of ski equipment and basking in her recent selection by the West German government as “Athlete of the Year.” She has signed with Mark McCormack, the famous American manager of top athletes (PEOPLE, Feb. 21). He has lined up $1 million in commercial European contracts for Mittermaier and plans to bring her to the U.S. this year with the idea of creating a pro ski circuit around her (all but promising that she will become the sport’s Dorothy Hamill).
Even if Rosi doesn’t make American women give up the Wedge in favor of der Bangs, her luck has taken a dramatic turn for someone who heretofore had three kinds of things happen to her: bad, worse and worst.
The daughter of a ski school operator in the Bavarian town of Reit-im-Winkl, Rosi barely survived at birth; her twin sister died. As an infant, she was nearly suffocated when a goat climbed into her carriage and lay down on her. At 2 she ate rat poison.
After she managed to grow up into a skiing prodigy, she performed poorly in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics. In 1975, with the Innsbruck games just a year off, she collided with a slalom pole and nearly put out her right eye. She had hardly recovered from that mishap when a tourist skier plowed into her, breaking her right arm. When she finally got to Innsbruck, she was so much older than most of the other skiers they teasingly called her “Granny.” She had the last word after she was awarded her country’s only two gold medals of the Winter Games. “I’m very, very lucky,” she insists. “I could have been killed several times in my life and here I am. Someone up there has to be looking out for me.”
Despite her new fame and wealth, Rosi still lives with her parents and sister Evi, 23, who is on the current German national team. Rosi’s life is not all competitive skiing. She scuba dives in Italy with Christian Neureuther, the top-ranked German male skier, has recorded an album of Bavarian folk songs with Evi, and joins the rest of her family these days for cross-country ski jaunts. A lot of her energy goes into avoiding overzealous fans in Reit-im-Winkl, which she has made so famous the town has had to hire an extra policeman to direct traffic.
“People have come to visit my parents’ house in the middle of the night,” Rosi marvels. “I have to go to America to get a little peace and quiet.”