If you travel to the small resort town of Gschnitz, Austria, you will find a brand new statue of slalom specialist Manfred Pranger. Clearly the place has something to be proud of as the 32-year-old world champion who is also a father of two, has recently made a huge resurgence in his racing career.
Pranger's father taught him how to ski shortly after he started walking at the age of 2 and he promptly began competing in children's races. Joining the army at age 21 forced him to focus on other things besides competition, but at that point, he had been skiing on the Europa Cup for one "learning" season and was starting to rack up some points. By 1999-2000, he was finishing top 20 in both slalom and giant slalom. The following year saw victory for the Voelkl racer and he became a regular face on the Europa Cup podium ... appearing many more times on the top step. Pranger first tried his speed in a couple slalom races on the World Cup that same season, finishing 23rd in Wengen and 24th in Kitzbuehel. Following this Cup debut, Pranger fired into the real ranks in 2001-02, consistently finishing top 10 and top five before landing four consecutive podiums in 2003-04, in Lillehammer, Park City, Madonna di Campiglio and Flauchau. He went on to finish fifth in the 2003 world championship slalom in St. Moritz, and closed out the season with one more Cup podium in Sestriere. In 2005, Pranger showed he was tired of finishing in third place and landed his first victory in Kitzbuehel. On a serious roll, he followed up with yet another win two days later in Schladming and finished off the season with a career best third place in the slalom standings. Comparably, the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons were not as exciting for him, though he was still a fixture in the top 10 line up when he finished races.
Though he was no stranger to glory by the time he entered the 2008-09 season, last year is really when Pranger hit his high note. Switzerland proved bountiful in January, when Pranger finished second in Adelboden then won his third World Cup race a week later in Wengen. Back in the happy homeland at Schladming, Pranger narrowly missed another victory, but finished second, priming him for his most shining moment to date at the 2009 world championships in Val d'Isere. His fourth appearance at the championships, Pranger had never finished better than fifth - his result in St. Moritz and Are in 2007, while he also took a DNF at worlds in Bormio in 2005. Yes, he was ready for something better this time. And he found it. The Austrian was the fastest in the first run of the slalom and kept his lead until the end, landing the glistening gold medal. Though he suffered back pain at the end of the season, he closed out at fourth place in the Cup standings, also grabbing his fourth national championship title. In April he underwent an operation for a herniated disc in his back and after a summer of training, he is feeling good and ready to race again.
Very grateful for the statue of his likeness in his hometown, Pranger's kids keep him busy when he's not racing or training and when he has time, he also loves music, tennis and swimming.
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