Former skier Blanca Fernández Ochoa, the first Spanish woman to win a winter Olympic medal, was found dead on Wednesday after being missing for 11 days.
The 56-year-old’s body was located on the mountain peak of La Peñota, near the town of Cercedilla, in the Sierra de Madrid range north of the capital, said the police. Sources close to the investigation said the body had a strong blow to the head, suggesting a fall.
The former skier was found by an off-duty Civil Guard officer and his dog, who were part of the largest search operation ever rolled out in the Madrid region: 100 National Police officers, 100 members of the Civil Guard, 60 volunteers from the civil protection services and 11 municipal police officers. Helicopters, drones, horses and dogs were also employed to comb the mountainous area.
Fernández Ochoa was last seen alive on August 24, first at an Hipercor supermarket in Pozuelo de Alarcón, and later in Cercedilla where a local resident saw her headed for the area where she was found on Wednesday.
Her relatives began to worry when she failed to come home and did not get in touch. She also left her cellphone behind.
Fernández Ochoa had recently moved in with her sister and brother-in-law after getting divorced from her second husband and selling the family home in Las Rozas. Her two children, Olivia and David, were living with their father.
The former Olympic champion’s car, a black Mercedes, was located in a parking area for hikers in Las Dehesas, two kilometers from Cercedilla. Inside the vehicle the police found a small purse with her ID card, her driver’s license and €15 in cash.
A difficult search
“It’s a very complicated terrain, very steep and with thick vegetation, with rivers, rocky outcrops and lots of fern that hinder visibility, even at close range,” said two officers from the National Police’s special ops unit GEO who had just climbed half-way up one of the Seven Peaks, the skier’s favorite mountain.
Blanca Fernández Ochoa belonged to a family with a long tradition in sports. The Ochoas were also something of an institution in Cercedilla, where there is a monument to Francisco (Paquito) Fernández Ochoa outside city hall for his achievements at the Sapporo Games of 1972. Cercedilla is also where his sister Blanca was carried by a crowd on their shoulders after she won bronze in the slalom at the Albertville Games in 1992.
After ending her career, she had taken up other sports such as golf, and participated in a few reality shows on television. Most recently she had been making a living as a personal trainer, just like her sister Lola, but her financial situation was described by family members as “very precarious.”
“She had no credit cards and just one bank account with a balance of zero euros,” said her brother-in-law Adrián Federighi.
An autopsy will be performed on her body to determine the cause of death, and a large funeral is expected in her memory. “It’s too bad she will never be able to see how much people love her,” said her sister Lola.
English version by Susana Urra.