By Pat Graham AP Sports Writer
February 1, 2014
The German prince who skis for Mexico has a noble ambition in Sochi: Become king of the hill.
Not so much with his finish in the slalom — he has no illusions of winning — but rather through his fashion statement.
Hubertus Von Hohenlohe, who turns 55 on Sunday, wants to stand out on the slopes in his flamboyant mariachi racing suit.
A fitting outfit for a vibrant character. Born in Mexico City, Von Hohenlohe has royal lineage through his family’s ties with a former principality in Germany. He’s also a singer who’s released several albums, photographer whose work has been displayed in galleries and, oh yeah, a soon-to-be six-time Olympian.
That’s right, six appearances, beginning with his debut at the 1984 Sarajevo Games. Von Hohenlohe counts Austria great Franz Klammer as a friend, Bode Miller as an inspiration — “He’s a rebel and lives by his own rules,” the prince explained — and said this new generation of skiers keeps him young.
“I have had an interesting life,” Von Hohenlohe said.
Indeed. No wonder he’s referred to as the “most interesting Olympian,” a take on the commercial featuring the “most interesting man in the world” character.
“The fact that I have a span of 30 years where I’ve competed at the Olympics is quite special,” he said in a phone interview from his hotel room in Mexico City.
Von Hohenlohe is set to become the second-oldest male competitor at a Winter Games when he races in the slalom on Feb. 22, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon. The honor of oldest belongs to Carl August Kronlund, a Swedish curler who was 58 when he captured a silver medal at the 1924 Games.
That’s a distinction Von Hohenlohe really doesn’t want, which is why Sochi will be his last Olympics.
Then again, he said he was retiring after Vancouver, too.
“Maybe I’ll try curling and go to a couple more?” said Von Hohenlohe, whose grandmother has Mexican ancestry.
In Vancouver four years ago, Von Hohenlohe wore a ski suit that featured a picture of a gun in a holster. He also wore others that tried to promote recycling efforts in Mexico.
This mariachi theme, though, takes the prize.
“It’s an appropriate suit for someone who’s not as explosive as the young ones, but has to go down stylish,” said Von Hohenlohe, who founded the Mexican Ski Federation in the early ’80s.
The charismatic Von Hohenlohe moved to Spain as a kid and then was sent to school in Austria, which he didn’t particularly like.
“Dark, depressing, strict and boring,” he said. “About the only thing that lit up my life was watching ski racing.”
He saw some great ones, too — Jean-Claude Killy and Klammer were his favorites. He even once had a chat with Klammer, telling him he would one day be a racer as well.
A few years later, Von Hohenlohe showed up in the starting gate at a World Cup competition in Austria and startled Klammer.
“He was surprised and was like, ‘What are you doing here?’” recalled Von Hohenlohe, whose best finish in 28 World Cup starts was fifth during a combined event in 1981. “I told him I wanted to have a go at this, too.”
Von Hohenlohe remains friends with Klammer. So much so that Von Hohenlohe called him up after a recent crash in which he banged up his calf, just to tell Klammer how much he was hurting (the injury prevented him from qualifying for Sochi in the giant slalom).
“I told Franz, ‘I don’t know if I can make it,’” Von Hohenlohe said. “Franz is like, ‘You’re crazy. You have to be the legend.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, my legend is on quantity of Olympic starts and yours is on quality.’”
Sore calf and all, he will be in Sochi to add to a streak that started 30 years ago in Sarajevo when he competed as Hubertus von Furstenberg-von Hohenlohe. He finished 38th in the downhill, 48th in the giant slalom and 26th in the slalom, which remains his best-ever Olympic showing.
He also took part in the ‘88, ‘92 and ‘94 Winter Games, only to skip the next three because Mexico didn’t want to send a tiny team, he said.
But Von Hohenlohe was back on the slopes in Vancouver, giving him a stretch of 16 years between Olympic appearances, which is among the biggest gaps in Winter Olympics history, according to Mallon’s research.
What’s more, he’s not the only royal member of his family to compete in the Olympics, either. His uncle, Max, also a prince, competed in the downhill for Liechtenstein at the ‘56 Olympics.
“When I walk into Sochi with the flag, I’ll be crying, thinking about all the emotion it took to get here,” Von Hohenlohe said. “It shows you a life has so much to it.”
He suddenly laughed, a memory flashing back to him — a reporter approaching before a race in Slovenia.
“This guy was like, ‘Are you the son of the famous Hubertus Von Hohenlohe who was racing in the ’80s?’” he recounted. “I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ He’s like, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Hubertus, and I’m still the original!’”