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A Golden Relationship

A Golden Relationship

A Golden Relationship

Within the span of 34 years, father Hubert and son Johannes Strolz from Warth both managed to win gold medals at the Olympic Games. The two ski athletes, whose careers are not dissimilar, have since been regarded as a prime example of a strong father-son relationship.

“Golden skiing fun” is written on the banner that hangs on a weathered hay barn at the end of the village of Schröcken and marks the way up to the village of Warth. The banner features two men in red Anorak coats, both holding gold medals up to the camera and smiling sheepishly. The names of the skiers are Hubert and Johannes Strolz. They became somewhat famous in February of 2022. After all, the pair managed to capture Olympic gold in the same discipline, Alpine Combined, but 34 years apart. Before achieving success, both toiled for many years, enduring the ups and downs of the skiing world. The image of tears welling up in the eyes of father Hubert the morning after his eldest son won gold run was a heart-warming story of an intimate family bond. After all, the careers of these two elite athletes had been quite similar: each discovered their enthusiasm for skiing and racing during elementary school. Hubert Strolz explains that his father, Ewald, had been a ski instructor in Warth, but that his father didn’t pressure him into skiing. Allowing his kids to forge their own path was also important to Hubert. His daughter Anna Maria is an excellent skier, but she was never enthusiastic about competitions. But Johannes showed a competitive flair from an early age. Born in 1992, he followed in his father’s footsteps and competed in his first World Cup giant slalom event in Val d’Isère in December 2013. “My dad was always a huge role model and a very important figure for me,” says Johannes Strolz. “I learned a lot from him and still do.” Hubert Strolz was ten years old when he decided in 1972 to transfer from the Warth village school to the newly opened ski school in Schruns: “I was all in!

But my homesickness was terrible in the beginning and the trip from Montafon to Warth in winter was a half-day journey.” Nevertheless, the now 61-year-old raves about the 1970s and 1980s, when a large part of Vorarlberg’s young skiers such as Marc Girardelli, Mathias Berthold, Rainer Salzgeber and Anita Wachter lived together with two female supervisors in a guesthouse in Schruns. In the morning, the children attended school and in the afternoon they trained. While on the slopes during a FIS race in the late 1970s in Tyrol, greenhorn Strolz stood next to his idol, the Swede Ingemar Stenmark, for the first time: “I just stared at him in awe.” In 1984, Strolz would ascend the giant slalom podium in Adelboden as runner-up together with Stenmark: “It was an indescribable feeling.” In 2022, the Swiss ski resort also proved to be a lucky place for his son Johannes: after many setbacks, he claimed his first World Cup victory in Adelboden at the age of 29: “When I crossed the finish line, an enormous weight fell off my shoulders. I’ll never forget that feeling!” Hubert Strolz made the podium 34 times between 1980 and 1994, but apart from the gold and silver medals at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, he only won a single Alpine combined World Cup race. Second place became his trademark at some point, but that doesn’t bother him anymore today. When he talks about his days as an active skier, he enthuses about the countries he travelled to, about what he experienced there and about all the people who touched his life. The “joy of skiing,” to which Hubert Strolz returns again and again with careful composure, is no empty refrain, but part of his core being.

In a TV interview a few weeks before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Hubert Strolz acknowledged that his son Johannes was “skiing with joy at the moment.” His father proved to be right: Johannes won two golds and one silver for Austria in Beijing after a season in which he had been kicked out of the Austrian squad the year before, and had competed on his own as a solo athlete without a team and technical trainers. For the young Olympic champion, in addition to the medal, the main thing was the certainty “that my sporting career could continue. That I could pursue doing what I love most.” It was indescribably wonderful to see the number of people who were happy for him, Johannes adds. During the Olympic Games, people would sometimes wake the “Haus Hubertus” holiday apartments at four o’clock in the morning out of sheer enthusiasm on account of the time difference, Hubert Strolz remembers with a laugh. For months afterwards, the two men enjoyed the limelight and were touted as a prime example of an ideal father-son sporting relationship: “The interest shown by the public was overwhelming – in every sense of the word!” During the 2022/23 ski season with the World Championships in Courchevel/Méribel, the medal dreams of many rested on Johannes Strolz. But they were not to come true. “As a racer, you’re supposed to go to the starting line and have a great run. And that’s it!” explains father Hubert from experience. “But when you carry such high expectations, being relaxed proves impossible. The pressure you put on yourself is enormous. Putting something like that aside is a tremendous challenge.”

One day after what he called a “botched run” in the combined slalom in Courchevel, Johannes Strolz was back in Warth. Complaining is not in his nature: “I messed up,” is all he can say. His parents’ house at the end of the village in Warth is a place of retreat for him, where he can regain his peace surrounded by his family. And the joy of skiing. Father Hubert returned to Warth after his career ended in 1994. He became a ski guide and farmer and bid farewell to professional ski racing: “Not because of the sport, but because of all the travelling.I wanted to spend time with my family.” Already during his career, he and his wife Birgit moved into his parents’ bed and breakfast in 1990: They still run the “Haus Hubertus” today. Hubert Strolz was in charge of the Warth Ski School until 2007. In the same year, he also took over the farm from his father Ewald and converted it into an organic dairy farm. Today, Hubert manages the farm together with his son. “We are a very good team,” says Johannes. “My father is very patient with jobs that require a little bit of fiddling around, while I am very good at planning and organising things. We complement each other perfectly.” Even though Hubert Strolz can still philosophise for hours about the proper skiing technique and he enjoys doing so with his son, he now speaks with the same dedication about the benefits of the Original Braunvieh cattle breed, which he now raises. Be it skis or cows: robustness and perfect all-terrain capability on the slopes are crucial.

Author: Babette Karner
Issue: Winter 2023-24 Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine