Australia’s oldest Olympian Frank Prihoda celebrates his 98th birthday
8 July 2019
AOC: Celebrating his 98th birthday today is Australia’s oldest Olympian, Frank Prihoda. Born in the Czech Republic, the 1956 Winter Olympian, fled his native country to live in Australia where he proudly wore the green and gold of his adopted country.
Frank Prihoda was born in 1921 in Prague, but snow was a bit of a nuisance. In the streets around his house, snow was cleared away as it interfered with the city functioning.
“I went skiing for the first time at the age of eight, not a very successful affair for me,” recalled Prihoda. “My sister and various cousins did much better. More seriously skiing started for me at the age of 13.
“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.”
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.
He immediately started working and later commenced skiing on weekends at Mt Buller.
“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.
In 1953 Kandahar Ski Club was founded under the auspices of George Chisholm, it was a 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 organiser in Victoria and NSW. Prihoda would himself become involved in administration as chairman and a racing committee 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, was 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.”
Eventually Prihoda was selected and prepared professionally by departing Australia in December to compete and train in USA, Canada and Europe ahead of arriving in Cortina, Italy on 22 January 1956, four days before the opening ceremony.
“Cortina was a lovely, charming mountain village, more of a small town or township, with luxurious shops and entertainment venues, provided everything for the successful conduct of the Games. They had a new stadium, general improvements in infrastructure and buildings except the very important ingredient - snow. The conditions were better farther up the mountains but snow cover was very thin.
“The Italian hosts were very generous, our hotel Roma was a first class family establishment, accommodation being two or three to a room.
“The opening ceremony took place on Thursday 26th January 1956 on a bright sunny winter day. After a march through the streets of Cortina we entered the stadium at the head of the column. Flag bearer was a young Italian athlete as ours was a small team and an agreement could not be reached, who of us it should be. I was walking with pride being able to represent my new country and also with a little fear of the tasks ahead.”
At the Games Prihoda competed in the Giant Slalom and Slalom, placing a best of 54th in the later event.
At the end of the Games, Prihoda felt letdown after the high of the Games.
“After the closing ceremony came a flat feeling of disappointment, feeling that one could have done better and maybe tried harder. However, at the end of the Games all was done and could not be changed. For more than a month I was living on a constant ‘high’. I went to Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, partly on business, also visiting friends, then to Hong Kong before returning to Australia in May 1956.
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 47 of the last 71 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 98, still lives in Thredbo and only stopped skiing eight years ago.
“I am enjoying comparatively good health in spite of having problems mainly with my back which also hampers my walking.”
Read two extended articles about Frank Prihoda;
David Tarbotton for AOC