Italy's former champion Erwin Stricker also nicknamed ‘Crazy Horse' (‘Cavallo Pazzo') by his numerous fans and business partners died on Tuesday morning after undergoing brain surgery at Bolzano, in Alto Adige (South Tyrol). The 60-year-old father of two apparently endured a brain tumor that was only discovered recently during a check-up. He has been suffering strong headaches during a last trip to China.
It's a big loss for the small community of World Cup veterans!
A book should be written to describe at length the racing achievements and the intense existence of this larger-than-life ski expert who had become a true legend of the sport and the Alpine World Cup tour.
A member of the great Italian team in the days of Gustavo Thoeni and Piero Gros, he was an active and colorful part of that famous ‘Valanga Azzurra' which dominated the technical events for many years in the 1970's prior the arrival of Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark.
He was on the podium among his friends in January 1974 during that amazing day at Berchtesgaden, in Germany, when five Italian racers finished atop a giant slalom won by Gros. It was the first time that a single national team managed to dominate a men's World Cup event in such an impressive way! In fact nobody ever could repeat that performance afterwards in a men's giant slalom.
A few weeks later, Erwin became the unhappy hero of a dramatic race at St Moritz, during the FIS 1974 World Championships, when he decided to fight for victory in the slalom race in order to confirm his potential in that specialty after a verbal fight with one of his teammates.
Italy's head coach Mario Cotelli had qualified him for that last race instead of Illario Pegorari, another top slalom specialist on the ‘Squadra Azzurra', in order to put his team in the position to collect the gold medal in the combined. After two solid races in downhill and giant slalom, Stricker was the clear favorite in that ‘paper race'. But he had another, more exciting goal - winning the race itself!
He was very fast in his first run prior straddling a gate and skiing out. A ‘normal' run would have been enough for Stricker to grab that gold medal but he busted his chance with his aggressive yet desperate attitude. It helped Austria's new star Franz Klammer, 2nd in the downhill, to collect the title despite a far 20th place in the slalom.
In reality, there was a big tension within the Italian team at St. Moritz since the first day because Stricker has been selected for the downhill in place of three time World Cup champion Gustavo Thoeni who had to focus on the technical events instead.
The fact that the Italian leaders came from different parts of the country including the German speaking part of ‘Alto Adige' also named ‘South Tyrol' strongly complicated the job of the trainers.
In March 1974, Erwin ended the Overall World Cup standings in a promising 6th place after scoring points in all specialties - still an remarkable performance for that racer who started to compete much later than his colleagues.
A mixture of bad luck, crashes and health problems prevented him to fulfill his potential in the following seasons so he decided to give up racing a few years later. But he didn't turn his back to the sport as he already had made a name on the tour because of his personality and his imagination. His numerous (and sometime curious) technical ideas often made headlines in the newspapers!
One of them was to ski with a spoiler attached on his lower back under his plastic suit, using a big helmet copied on the model carried by the crazy speed specialists from the ‘Kilometro Lanciato' - those reckless speedsters flying down the mountains at over 250 km/h like the late Steve McKinney!
A few years after the end of his racing career, he created a remarkable foundation dedicated to injured racers who needed financial support. It strongly helped many of them .As a creative sports manager, he also worked with various marketing companies, making or losing a lot of money depending on the success of his projects including running an ATP Tennis Tournament at Bolzano. More than once Erwin was nearly bankrupt.
Fortunately for him, he was married to a beautiful and smart woman - Linda Esser, a former Dutch racer. She always took great care of him and supported him in his good and also difficult moments.
Despite creating many successful companies including an important ski and bike rent business in Merano, South Tyrol, Stricker kept on looking for new challenges and chasing new projects.
One of them was to advice countries like China on the development of alpine skiing in its huge mountains with the support of FIS. He has been very successful in his efforts to promote the sport there - also helping the Chinese people to learn moving safer on snow with shorter skis, much easier to control for beginners.
Last August, he was very proud to invite some friends in his superb old house in the middle of Merano and he enjoyed to chat with them the entire day on its roof. "That's really a great moment, I'm so happy to have you all with me," he kept on telling us between cracking jokes. He knew so many good jokes ! "I can't wait to do another big party like this in ten years," he even added with a smile.
The party lasted until late in the night. Then it was time for him to pack again and hit the road for China...It was his last trip in our world.
Erwin Stricker never won a major race in his career but he made a lot of friends as he always had a big smile on his face and a very generous heart. It was all about giving for him, including what is the most precious in our modern world - his time and his feelings.
Contributed by Patrick Lang
Peter Fill (Italian Ski Team): "I met Erwin on the World Cup slopes, which he liked to visit not only for his business affairs, but above all because he liked to be among the athletes. He was always ready to help us with advice and share his experience. He did so always with passion and genuine honesty that characterized him. In any situation his words were direct and sincere."
"The last time I had an opportunity to see Erwin was in Carezza in the end of August at the Multivision Show of the famous Formula 1 photographer Ercole Colombo with Stefano Domenicali, the Sports Director of Ferrari as the special guest. Stricker was as bright and energetic as usual and I remember being greeted with his trademark handshake, which perfectly summarized his character - strong to the point of hurting, but at the same time sincere and extremely friendly."
Terry Palmer (US Ski Team): "I was just FB-ing with Ervin 3 weeks ago, he mentioned he had a tumor, at that point he said he didn't know how bad. Wow, I am in tears. He was a great, great guy. Tyler and I did not have a slalom coach in Sapporro in 1972 and Ervin offered to keep the gates up and he helped us train everyday for three weeks, and he was happy and joyous to help. He was a special guy, big zest for life, like all ski racers - we are privileged to play and to be in the mountains and Ervin knew this. WE WERE LUCKY TO KNOW HIM AS A FRIEND, COMPETITOR and as a very, very GREAT GUY. Ciao, Terry and Tyler Palmer ».
Stuart Fitzsimmons (GB): "Lit a candle for the candle in the wind for Erwin on every mountain. Miss you. All the Scots skiers."