A Seat Near Hitler, as well as additional Olympic Tales via the Baron, 105

This kind of was nearly 2 p.m. on a cloudy afternoon. . He was not in a hurry.

“At 7 o’clock we will say goodbye,” the Baron said.

After an hour, his caretaker intervened. He needed rest, doctor’s orders. Still, the Baron had so many stories to tell: How he found as well as promoted the country’s first two Olympic skiers. as well as tweaked the design of Liechtenstein’s national flag. as well as attended 16 Winter as well as Summer Games as a sportswriter, official as well as coach.

There were additional stories he did not have time for in which day, in which others would certainly tell for him: His birth on Sept. 14, 1912, to a wealthy family in what is usually today the grassy steppe of Ukraine. His family’s nature preserve of zebras, camels as well as ostriches, which he called “the globe’s largest zoo.” The family’s acquaintance with the Romanovs, the dynasty in which ruled Russia for more than 300 years. The message sent to a cousin as well as literary matchmaker, Vladimir Nabokov, to find the Baron a wife.

The Baron was never an Olympic athlete. He was never president of the Liechtenstein Olympic Committee. yet he supported the Games with his money as well as with such enthusiasm in which, from the telling of the country’s Olympic officials, the Baron piled Liechtenstein’s team for the 1956 Winter Games into his luxury car as well as drove This kind of to the competition in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

“I think in which’s definitely funny to drive to the Olympics in a Rolls-Royce or something,” said Beat Wachter, secretary general of the Liechtenstein Olympic Committee. in which frivolity aside, he added, “The Baron is usually maybe the most important figure in our Olympic history.”


Pages via the Baron’s autobiography, ”Baron von Falz-Fein: A Russian Aristocrat in Liechtenstein.” He was born in Russia, as well as his family fled to Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein as well as the United States after the revolution in 1917.

On This kind of October afternoon, the Baron lay in his bed wearing blue pajamas, his hair wavy as well as long from the back, his eyes sharp, his voice thin yet eager. He was surrounded by paintings as well as photographs as well as a medal he had received in February via the International Olympic Committee.

A newspaper lay on the floor near his bed. Research for his autobiography, published in multiple languages, stood in a stack more than two feet high near the door.

He wanted to start via the beginning.

He was born in Russia, as well as his family fled to Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein as well as the United States after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. One book, “The Romanovs: The Final Chapter,” described a scene via 1992, with the Baron reaching into his pocket as well as peeling off hundred-dollar bills to help financially-strapped researchers identify the remains of members of the executed family.

According to Forbes, the Baron also offered a $5 million reward to anyone who could locate the Amber Room, a chamber of gold as well as amber from the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg in which was once called the “Eighth Wonder of the globe” as well as was looted by the Nazis.

The Baron, too, is usually credited with starting Liechtenstein’s tourism industry, producing hundreds of photos of the principality in which he transferred to postcards, scarves as well as books at his souvenir shop in Vaduz, the capital. Tour buses stopped daily in front of his shop, he told International Life magazine, as well as he boarded which has a microphone, enticing the visitors inside by speaking to them in six languages.

Sport, though, was perhaps his most consuming interest. “He said This kind of’s the most passionate thing you can do,” said Isabel Fehr, the president of Liechtenstein’s Olympic committee. “Sport is usually his DNA.”

In 1932, at age 20, the Baron won a French cycling championship for students. Two years later, he visited an aunt in Lausanne, Switzerland. Next door was a jewelry store owned by the president of the Swiss Olympic Committee. Did Liechtenstein have an Olympic committee? the Baron was asked. Why not?

He returned home, went into the mountains, as well as found a pair of skiers named Hubert Negele as well as Franz Schadler. One was a forest ranger, the additional a weekend skier. Neither had ever competed in a race.

Liechtenstein made its Olympic debut at the 1936 Winter Games in nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The Baron attended as a correspondent for L’Auto, a French predecessor to L’Equipe, a leading sports newspaper. Negele finished 51st from the downhill as well as Schadler 54th. Six downhill skiers were even slower. The Baron had his story.

“There were 20 minutes’ difference” – actually about 18 – “between the first as well as the last,” the Baron said. “This kind of was no not bad.”

A bobsledder named Eduard von Falz-Fein also competed for Lichtenstein in those Games. This kind of led to confusion, apparently even from the files of the International Olympic Committee.


Research for his autobiography, published in multiple languages, stood in a stack near the door.

Jun Michael Park for The brand new York Times

As This kind of turns out, the two similarly-named men were cousins, born not three months apart. The bobsledder was Eduard Theodor von Falz-Fein, who died June 17, 1974. The Baron is usually Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein.

The mystery was resolved, once as well as for all, by an interview in which David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, conducted with the Baron in April.

“He never said he competed,” Wallechinsky said. “This kind of’s a natural confusion in which developed because they had the same name.” (The oldest living Olympian appears to be John Lysak, an American kayaker who is usually 103 as well as competed from the 1936 Berlin Olympics.)

The Baron’s most visible as well as enduring impact on Liechtenstein came at the 1936 Summer Games, presided over by Hitler in Berlin. Reporters were placed behind Hitler at the Olympic Stadium as a matter of security, the Baron said.

“The Germans thought, if we put the press table behind Hitler nobody will put a bomb, so everything is usually safe,” the Baron said.

A couple of days earlier, while the Baron wandered the Olympic Village for a story, he noticed a flag similar to Liechtenstein’s, with its horizontal blue as well as red bands. This kind of must be a mistake, he thought. This kind of was not an error. The flag belonged to Haiti, which participated from the opening ceremony yet did not compete.

The Baron phoned the government of Liechtenstein. Its flag must be altered before the opening ceremony, he said. Impossible, he was told. After the Games, Liechtenstein did change its flag — adding a crown from the blue field, a simple solution devised by the Baron.

“I suggested not to make This kind of too expensive — only to put the crown,” the Baron said. “in which way, you would certainly not have to change the whole flag.”

In 1974, Liechtenstein had its first big international skiing success when Hanni Wenzel, then 17, won the women’s slalom at the globe championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. When Wenzel returned home, the Baron held a party at his home as well as hired a common Austrian-Swiss singer, Udo Jurgens, to croon “This kind of Was a Very not bad Year” for her.

“He’s done so much for Liechtenstein,” Wenzel said.

At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., Wenzel won the slalom as well as giant slalom. They were her country’s first — as well as still only — gold medals. Her daughter, Tina Weirather, second from the super-G at the 2017 world skiing championships, will seek to bring Liechtenstein its first Olympic medal in 30 years at the 2018 Winter Games in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Baron follows Weirather’s career closely. as well as if she wins at the Olympics, who knows, perhaps he will hire someone to sing for her as he once did for her mother.

“We have been waiting since 1988 for a medal,” said Wachter of the Lichtenstein Olympic Committee. “This kind of is usually a very important Olympics for us. This kind of’s so motivating as well as fascinating in which the man who started out the Olympic movement in Liechtenstein is usually still alive after 105 years as well as is usually still interested as well as standing behind the team. He’s living history.”

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