Australia’s oldest living Olympian debuted 61 years ago - Part 2
13 February 2017
AOC: This month, Australia’s oldest living Olympian, Frank Prihoda, made his Olympic debut at the 1956 winter Games in Italy. In part one of this article, Prihoda, now 95-year-old, recalled his preparation and competition at the Games held in the Italian ski village of Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Here in part two, he recalls how he departed Czechoslovakia, his country of birth to live in Australia. In the post war era, he also revealed how some former teammates were told not to have contact with him at the 1956 Games.
A few years after the end of WWI, Frank Prihoda was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
“I had a good childhood in a middle class family, attending five years of primary school and also five years of "middle school", roughly the same as high school here,” Prihoda recalled. However, he didn’t complete the usual eight years of middle school.
“Unfortunately I could not finish it on account of my father's premature death and mother took me out of school in order to enter the family business which was manufacturing artificial flowers.”
As he grew up Prihoda experienced snow in the streets of Prague, but it was quickly cleared away as it interfered with the city functioning.
“In some quiet hilly streets tobogganing was enjoyed by small children. I went skiing for the first time at the age of eight, not a very successful affair for me. My sister and various cousins did much better. More seriously skiing started for me at the age of 13 when I gradually tagged onto some older cousins and my sister who raced reqularly.
"From the age of 13 I started doing track athletics in the youth class running 60m sprints and later 400m, which was better suited for me. Of course I continued skiing mainly being taught and coached by older racers and gradually being involved in the Ski Club "Slavia".”
In his mid-teens, life in his home city changed for the worse.
“In February 1948, after the Communist Putsch a strict communist-socialist government came into power - a harsh regime under which I did not want to live. Our business was expropriated and the future was dim. I decided to leave the country and managed to do so in the company of my brother in law in January 1949, by crossing illegally into Austria.”
His older sister, Sasha Nekvapil, who have just competed in St Moritz at the 1948 winter Olympics for Czechoslovakia, managed not to return home with the team.
“Quite an achievement,” Prihoda recalled. “Eventually I meet Sasha in St. Anton in Austria where we were also joined by Tony Sponar (another Czech skier who competed at the 1948 Games) and ran commercially a portable ski tow in nearby St.Christoph.”
After living and working in Austria he spent some eight months in Belgium where his sister and brother-in-law were, before he left Europe for Melbourne in February 1950.
“It was a family decision. Being single and not requiring any assistance from the Australian government I obtained my landing permit within six weeks from Australia House in London. I arrived in Melbourne on 9th March 1950.
“I started working immediately in an artificial flower factory, Harbigs, at a very good wage. I stayed there some three months and later, after a short stint at mica mining, I was involved with friends in manufacturing tapestries for many years.”
He started skiing on weekends at Mt Buller in the winter of 1951.
“It was skiing without lifts, climbing on foot, which did not give you too much downhill skiing in a day but it was good for physical condition. Luckily there was in Melbourne my good friend from Prague, John Wagner, excellent skier and racer and together we had some quality skiing. However, there was no organized race training.”
In 1953 Kandahar Ski Club was founded under the auspices of George Chisholm, it was racing division of the Ski Club of Victoria. Chisholm, whom was later the team manager for the Winter Games in 1952 and 1956, was a key downhill racing organizer in Victoria and NSW. Prihoda would himself become involved in administration as chairman and racing committee at member at the Victorian Ski Association.
By 1955 it was known that Australia would send a team to the 1956 Winter Olympics and Prihoda, a leading skier, was nominated for selection.
“What was interesting about my nomination that being a migrant I did not fulfil the strict five-year residence requirement for naturalization, but wheels were put in motion and I received my Naturalization Certificate in May of 1955.”
At the Games he competed in the Giant Slalom and Slalom, placing a best of 54th in the later event.
“Personally I experienced the long arm of the communist regime while in Cortina. One day a Czech ice hockey player told me that my skier friends from the Czech team, were expressly forbidden to see me. I was wondering why they started to shun me. It had no other effect than depriving me of friendly contact.“
Prihoda’s sister Sascha Nekvapil, who had placed ninth in the combined downhill/slalom events in the 1948 Olympics, looked after his business while he was at the 1956 Games. She was ineligible to compete as she was deemed a professional as her profession was a ski instructor.
“For 43 of the last 67 years in Australia I have lived in Thredbo this wonderful mountain resort. For 27 years I ran a shop selling souvenirs, gifts, small clothing and also some art objects. I retired towards the end of 2001 at the age of 80.”
Prihoda, now 95, still lives in Thredbo and only stopped skiing five years ago.
“I am enjoying comparatively good health in spite of having problems mainly with my back which also hampers my walking. I have been single all my life and my nearest relative was my sister Sasha Nekvapil who lived in Thredbo from 1959 and ran a commercial lodge for 40 years.”
Part one of his life story is HERE
Image: Frank Prihoda at home in 2016.