Australia’s Oldest Living Olympian Turns 100
Posted on 8 Jul, 2021
Happy Birthday Frank!
Thredbo local legend and Australia’s oldest Olympian celebrates his centennial today.
The Life of Frank Prihoda
The world has seen a lot since 2021, from The Great Depression, World War II and 9/11 to man landing on the moon, the invention of the mobile phone and Y2K.
All the while, Frank Prihoda was there, watching events unfold, skis in hand.
On Thursday 8 July 1921, as heavy rain fell on a humid day in the city of Prague in Czechoslovakia, Frantisek (Frank) Prihoda was born. He joined an older sister, Sasha – you might know her name if you have ever skied Sashas Schuss from Karels T-Bar.
Even though Frank grew up in The Great Depression, he considered himself lucky and his childhood memories include family car trips into the countryside in his father’s American Hudson.
When Frank was three years old the very first Winter Olympics took place
When Frank was eight years old the impact of The Great Depression reached his home of Czechoslovakia
Frank strapped on his first pair of skis when he was a teenager and it has been his biggest passion since.
In 1936, Frank began ski racing with the Czechoslovakian Ski Federation squad where he would meet his long-time friend and fellow Thredbo legend, Tony Sponar – a name you would know if you ever hitched a ride on the Sponar T-Bar.
When Frank was seventeen Czechoslovakia was handed over to Nazi Germany
When Frank was eighteen World War II began
Following the sudden death of his father and subsequent death of his mother, Frank went on to run the family’s manufacturing business from the age of nineteen and through World War II.
When Frank was twenty-four, the microwave was invented
When Frank was twenty-seven, Czechoslovakia became a People’s Republic
Following the war, political changes occurred in Czechoslovakia which made Frank believe the success of his business would no longer be welcome in his home country.
“I was a manufacturer and an employer and, my father was an employer. We were deemed to be bourgeois. Bourgeois is the enemy of people like the working class….as such, I saw I had no future [in the country].”
He and his brother-in-law, Karel Nekvapil, decided to make their escape on skis.
In January 1949, a friend drove Frank and Karel to the south of the country, reaching a wide frozen lake bordering Austria.
Setting out on cross-country skis for an “outing”, Frank recalls many armed guards in the area.
They carefully made their way across the lake until Frank noticed a herd of deer. This indicated to him a lack of militia and an opportunity to escape to the country beyond.
Arriving in Austria, his pathway to being recognised as a refugee was not an easy one, however, he and Karel were eventually able to join his sister Sasha Nekvapil and friend Tony Sponar in St Anton. Here they ran a ski tow powered by Frank’s jeep before making the move to a new life in Australia.
In 1950 Frank and his family boarded a ship to Melbourne, skis in tow.
“I knew there was snow in Australia, so, I brought my skis with me.”
On arrival to Australia, Frank took to the slopes during his second winter, making his way to Mt Buller as part of the Melbourne University Ski Club.
Frank quickly stood out on the slopes and within a few short years, he qualified for the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy – representing Australia in Slalom and Giant Slalom events.
When Frank was thirty-four, Albert Einstein died
When Frank was thirty-six, Thredbo opened
In true Frank fashion, he decided to take the opportunity to go beyond competing and made the decision to travel for six months, “I said, I am going away. I am going to make it a proper trip…I flew around the world,” he explained.
When Frank was fourty-one, Australia entered the Vietnam War
When Frank was forty-eight, man landed on the moon
When Frank was fifty-two, the mobile phone was invented
Frank moved to Thredbo in 1974.
“To me, Thredbo is very special in as much as I knew about it before it was born. I was good friends with Tony Sponar and I knew he had this dream or desire to found a ski resort.”
Frank’s sister and brother-in-law had opened the second lodge ever built in Thredbo, Sasha’s Lodge, which still stands stoically today under the name Black Bear Inn. Frank started a gift shop where he sold memorabilia to those visiting the snowy region for twenty-seven years.
“I owned Frank’s Shop…which I closed when I turned 80 in 2001. 27 years is a good innings.”
When Frank was sixty-two, the internet was born
When Frank was seventy-six, the Thredbo landslide occurred
Frank spent 46 years skiing Thredbo’s long slopes and his love for skiing is still strong.
In 2000, Frank took pride of place carrying the Olympic Torch in Thredbo, lighting the cauldron on the Village Green.
When Frank turned eighty, the September 11 attacks took place in America
In his 89th year, Frank hung up his skis.
“I, unfortunately, gave up skiing so, I say, tell me about your experience. Bad weather, good weather, snow, soft snow, hard snow, sticky snow… [those who appreciate it] are real mountain people. Go and tell me how it is now and…keep your best turn for me.”
In 2020, a ski run in Thredbo was named after Frank. Joining those who were there for his life journey, his run sits alongside Sponars T-Bar, Sashas Schuss and Karels T-Bar.
“Having the Frank’s Face trail located between Karels T-Bar and Sashas Schuss gives me great pleasure and feels like family,” said Frank.
Frank still lives here. You can often see him driving, yes driving, his white Subaru around the village. He often speaks of his love for the mountains, the views, the freedom and the feeling of being a tiny speck in the vastness of nature.
“Being where you like to be, you become involved and attached to a place you live and work and gradually it becomes part of you.”
His advice following 100 years of enriching life experiences?
“Adventures. Don’t be afraid to take risky situations, go through them and try and do it for yourself. If you sit on your back and don’t do these things you will short change yourself and miss out on life experiences.”
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