A Seat Near Hitler, and Other Olympic Tales From a Baron, 105

It was scarcely 2 p.m. on a pale afternoon. . He was not in a hurry.

“At 7 o’clock we will contend goodbye,” a Baron said.

After an hour, his caretaker intervened. He indispensable rest, doctor’s orders. Still, a Baron had so many stories to tell: How he found and promoted a country’s initial dual Olympic skiers. And tweaked a pattern of Liechtenstein’s inhabitant flag. And attended 16 Winter and Summer Games as a sportswriter, central and coach.

There were other stories he did not have time for that day, that others would tell for him: His birth on Sept. 14, 1912, to a rich family in what is now a grassy steppe of Ukraine. His family’s inlet safety of zebras, camels and ostriches, that he called “the world’s largest zoo.” The family’s familiarity with a Romanovs, a dynasty that ruled Russia for some-more than 300 years. The summary sent to a cousin and literary matchmaker, Vladimir Nabokov, to find a Baron a wife.

The Baron was never an Olympic athlete. He was never boss of a Liechtenstein Olympic Committee. But he upheld a Games with his income and with such unrestrained that, in a revelation of a country’s Olympic officials, a Baron piled Liechtenstein’s group for a 1956 Winter Games into his oppulance automobile and gathering it to a foe in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

“I consider that’s unequivocally humorous to expostulate to a Olympics in a Rolls-Royce or something,” pronounced Beat Wachter, secretary ubiquitous of a Liechtenstein Olympic Committee. That excitement aside, he added, “The Baron is maybe a many critical figure in a Olympic history.”


Pages from a Baron’s autobiography, ”Baron von Falz-Fein: A Russian Aristocrat in Liechtenstein.” He was innate in Russia, and his family fled to Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and a United States after a series in 1917.

On this Oct afternoon, a Baron lay in his bed wearing blue pajamas, his hair wavy and prolonged in a back, his eyes sharp, his voice skinny yet eager. He was surrounded by paintings and photographs and a award he had perceived in Feb from a International Olympic Committee.

A journal lay on a building circuitously his bed. Research for his autobiography, published in mixed languages, stood in a smoke-stack some-more than dual feet high circuitously a door.


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He wanted to start from the beginning.

He was innate in Russia, and his family fled to Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and a United States after a comrade Revolution in 1917. One book, “The Romanovs: The Final Chapter,” described a stage from 1992, with a Baron reaching into his slot and bark off hundred-dollar bills to assistance financially-strapped researchers brand a stays of members of a executed family.

According to Forbes, a Baron also offering a $5 million prerogative to anyone who could locate a Amber Room, a cover of bullion and amber in a Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg that was once called a “Eighth Wonder of a World” and was looted by a Nazis.

The Baron, too, is credited with starting Liechtenstein’s tourism industry, creation hundreds of photos of a realm that he eliminated to postcards, scarves and books during his commemoration emporium in Vaduz, a capital. Tour buses stopped daily in front of his shop, he told International Life magazine, and he boarded with a microphone, interesting a visitors inside by vocalization to them in 6 languages.

Sport, though, was maybe his many immoderate interest. “He pronounced it’s a many ardent thing we can do,” pronounced Isabel Fehr, a boss of Liechtenstein’s Olympic committee. “Sport is his DNA.”

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

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He returned home, went into a mountains, and found a span of skiers named Hubert Negele and Franz Schadler. One was a timberland ranger, a other a weekend skier. Neither had ever competed in a race.

Liechtenstein finished a Olympic entrance during a 1936 Winter Games in circuitously Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The Baron attended as a match for L’Auto, a French prototype to L’Equipe, a heading sports newspaper. Negele finished 51st in a downhill and Schadler 54th. Six downhill skiers were even slower. The Baron had his story.

“There were 20 minutes’ difference” – indeed about 18 – “between a initial and a last,” a Baron said. “It was no good.”

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


Research for his autobiography, published in mixed languages, stood in a smoke-stack circuitously a door.

Jun Michael Park for The New York Times

As it turns out, a dual similarly-named group were cousins, innate not 3 months apart. The bobsledder was Eduard Theodor von Falz-Fein, who died Jun 17, 1974. The Baron is Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein.


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The poser was resolved, once and for all, by an talk that David Wallechinsky, boss of a International Society of Olympic Historians, conducted with a Baron in April.

“He never pronounced he competed,” Wallechinsky said. “It’s a healthy difficulty that grown given they had a same name.” (The oldest vital Olympian appears to be John Lysak, an American kayaker who is 103 and competed in a 1936 Berlin Olympics.)

The Baron’s many manifest and fast impact on Liechtenstein came during a 1936 Summer Games, presided over by Hitler in Berlin. Reporters were placed behind Hitler during a Olympic Stadium as a matter of security, a Baron said.

“The Germans thought, if we put a press list behind Hitler nobody will put a bomb, so all is safe,” a Baron said.

A integrate of days earlier, while a Baron wandered a Olympic Village for a story, he beheld a dwindle identical to Liechtenstein’s, with a plane blue and red bands. It contingency be a mistake, he thought. It was not an error. The dwindle belonged to Haiti, that participated in a opening rite yet did not compete.

The Baron phoned a supervision of Liechtenstein. Its dwindle contingency be altered before a opening ceremony, he said. Impossible, he was told. After a Games, Liechtenstein did change a dwindle — adding a climax in a blue field, a elementary resolution devised by a Baron.

“I suggested not to make it too costly — usually to put a crown,” a Baron said. “That way, we would not have to change a whole flag.”


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In 1974, Liechtenstein had a initial large general skiing success when Hanni Wenzel, afterwards 17, won a women’s slalom during a universe championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. When Wenzel returned home, a Baron hold a celebration during his home and hired a renouned Austrian-Swiss singer, Udo Jurgens, to croon “It Was a Very Good Year” for her.

“He’s finished so most for Liechtenstein,” Wenzel said.

At a 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., Wenzel won a slalom and hulk slalom. They were her country’s initial — and still usually — bullion medals. Her daughter, Tina Weirather, second in a super-G during a 2017 universe skiing championships, will find to move Liechtenstein a initial Olympic award in 30 years during a 2018 Winter Games in Feb in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Baron follows Weirather’s career closely. And if she wins during a Olympics, who knows, maybe he will sinecure someone to sing for her as he once did for her mother.

“We have been watchful given 1988 for a medal,” pronounced Wachter of a Lichtenstein Olympic Committee. “This is a really critical Olympics for us. It’s so motivating and fascinating that a male who started a Olympic transformation in Liechtenstein is still alive after 105 years and is still meddlesome and station behind a team. He’s vital history.”

Jere Longman has been covering a Olympics given 1988. The 2018 Winter Games will be his 14th Olympics, dual brief of a Baron.

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