When the Olympic Winter Games opened in Innsbruck in 1976, Ingemar Stenmark was already established in the elite of world ski racing. He had taken his first World Cup victory just over a year before those games, in Madonna di Campiglio. He was beaten to the Overall Cup by Gustavo Thöni who won the dramatic final by a few hundredths of a second but the spectators in Innsbruck new that a new star had been born. Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark is the most successful racer in the history of the sport and still remains a landmark in the sport 20 years after his retirement. Not only was he a successful athlete but also a vivid character. In the 2007 World Championships in Are more people turned up to see him than the actual athletes racing.
Stenmark was born in the North of Sweden in the tiny village of Taernaby situated near the Arctic Circle and skied from when he was a little boy.
It was Stenmark's fairy godfather Ermano Nogler, the ex-Italian champion from Val Gardena, who first spotted the immense potential that the youngster had and he was hired as team coach by Sweden.
Incredibly Stenmark scored his very first World Cup points in December 1973 in GS having started last with bib number 73. He continued to impress in the 1974 season pushing the top athletes and in his illustrious career he would go on to take a massive 86 World Cup wins, two Olympic and three World Championships gold medals, 15 technical World Cup titles and be crowned Overall World Cup champion from 1976 to 1978.
To this day Stenmark still holds some of the amazing records in the sport. In 1979 he won all the GS of the season and remained unbeaten in the discipline until 1980 amassing an incredible 15 consecutive wins. His victories in the slalom were not far behind either having won every race in the 1976 season.
The 1976 Olympic games in Innsbruck brought Ingemar a bronze medal in the GS but he then went on to dominate the 1980 Games in Lake Placid by winning gold in both GS and SL. He was then refused entry into the 1984 games of Sarajevo due to his status as a professional skier.
Stenmark's career was long running right up until the end of the 80's and although towards the end he was no longer the dominant force of old he did manage his last victory in February of 1989 in Aspen when he beat the likes of Girardelli and Tomba.
Ingemar was often mobbed when walking down the street was treated like a movie star wherever he went. Not only that but people were glued to their televisions when Stenmark was racing.
Sweden came to a complete standstill as soon as Ingemar Stenmark appeared in the starting hut. In schools all over the country the pupils were watching the TV broadcasts of the World Cup races, businesses stopped and even parliament would sometimes adjourn sessions.
Athletes of his time strived to find out what made Stenmark so dominant for so many years but one thing is for sure, there will never be another skier like him again.