Skiing: Missing Spanish ski Olympian found dead

Commander of the Spanish Civil Guard Jose Sierra speaks to the media after Ochoa's body was found.
Commander of the Spanish Civil Guard Jose Sierra speaks to the media after Ochoa's body was found.PHOTO: EUROPA PRESS/DPA
A 2014 photo shows Olympic medalist Blanca Fernandez Ochoa.
A 2014 photo shows Olympic medalist Blanca Fernandez Ochoa.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (AFP) - The body of former Spanish alpine ski medallist Blanca Fernandez Ochoa was found on Wednesday (Sept 4) in a mountainous area near Madrid after days of searches for her by hundreds of police and volunteers, officials said.

The 56-year-old - won a bronze skiing for Spain in the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, becoming the country's first female Winter Olympic medallist - had been missing since she was last spotted on surveillance video at a shopping centre on Aug 24.

Her car was later found at a parking lot near the start of a hiking trail in Cercedilla, a mountainous village near Madrid.

The authorities said they are still investigating the cause of her death.

"Solidarity, support and human warmth have been felt these days in the mountains of Cercedilla. Security forces and many volunteers have taken part in the search for Blanca Fernandez Ochoa. But nothing could be done. My affection to all her family," Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted.

Hundreds of police, firefighters, forest rangers and volunteers, backed by helicopters, drones and tracking dogs, had taken part in the search for Fernandez Ochoa.

Her family only alerted the authorities about her disappearance on Aug 29 because they said it was not unusual for her to go on hikes in the area, even without her phone, according to Spanish media reports.

Police on Saturday issued an appeal on social media for help from the public in locating Fernandez Ochoa along with a picture of her, which drew media attention to her disappearance.

She was well known in Spain, where she had taken part in several TV reality shows after retiring from sports.

Her older brother, Francisco Fernandez Ochoa, won a gold medal for skiing in the 1972 Winter Olympics in Japan. He is the first and only Spaniard to have won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

There is a statue in his honour in Cercedilla.

Until 2018 the brother and sister were the only Spaniards to have won medals at a Winter Olympics.

"It is a very sad day for Spanish sports," Spain's secretary of state for sports, Maria Jose Rienda, said in a statement.