Blanca Fernandez Ochoa competed in four Olympic Games, winning bronze in the 1992 slalom event. (AP: Dieter Endlicher, File)
The body of former alpine ski racer and Olympic medallist Blanca Fernandez Ochoa has been found in a mountainous area near Madrid, after hundred of volunteers spent days searching for her.
- Hundreds of volunteers joined the search for Blanca Fernandez Ochoa
- Several Spanish athletes and sports clubs expressed their condolences via social media
- Fernandez was last seen on August 24
Police said a tracking dog near a peak in the forested area came across a woman’s body, which friends said was believed to be that of 56-year-old Fernandez, Spain’s first female Winter Olympic medallist.
Unidentified police sources confirmed to Spanish news agency Europa Press the body was Fernandez’s.
She won a bronze skiing for Spain in the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville — the first by a Spanish woman — and became a household name.
“I remember Blanca with fondness,” said Alberto Tomba, a three-time Italian Olympic skiing champion.
“I raced for many years with her brother, Luis. It’s a terrible loss.”
In addition to the bronze medal in Albertville, Fernandez had 20 World Cup podium finishes in her career.
Spanish politicians tweeted condolences. Spain’s caretaker Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, tweeted his “warmest affection” for Fernandez’s family.
“Without a doubt she was one of our pioneers, an example to every woman,” tennis player Garbine Muguruza said in Spanish on Twitter.
Garbine Muguruza tweet: Fue sin duda una de nuestras pioneras, todo un ejemplo para todas.
Spanish two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso called Fernandez a “legend” in Spanish sports.
Fernando Alonso tweet: Que noticias tan tristes! Leyenda de nuestro deporte. Hazañas que siempre estarán en nuestro recuerdo. Mis condolencias a la familia y a sus amigos.
“A great reference,” said figure skater Javier Fernandez, whose bronze medal last year at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea was the first for a Spaniard since Fernandez’s feat in 1992.
Some soccer clubs also released statements lamenting Fernandez’s death, including Valencia and Real Madrid.
Real Madrid tweet:Real Madrid C. F. expresses its deep regret at the passing of Blanca Fernández Ochoa, an Olympic medallist and a legend of Spanish sport.
Police declined to confirm the body’s identification, saying formal procedures had to be followed before an official announcement was made. But the search was called off after its discovery.
Fernandez was last spotted on surveillance video at a shopping centre on August 24.
Her car was later found in Cercedilla, a mountainous village and resort popular with hikers where Fernandez’s family has deep roots.
According to Spanish media, the relatives only alerted authorities about her disappearance on August 29 because it wasn’t unusual for the former alpine ski champion to go on multiple-day hikes in the area, even without her phone.
More than 200 police officers on foot and horseback, firefighters, forest rangers and hundreds of volunteers had combed the steep pine-forested area for days looking for Fernandez.
They had been aided by more than 100 tracking dogs, helicopters and at least seven drones, police said.