David Wallechinsky looks back at Franz Klammer


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Note: Klammer’s run starts 36 seconds into the above video

1976 Innsbruck, Austria, Men’s Downhill:

In 1975, Franz Klammer of Mooswald in Carinthia won eight of nine World Cup downhill races. When the Olympics came to Innsbruck the following year, there was great pressure on the 22-year-old Klammer as an Austrian favorite competing in Austria. Further pressure was exerted by defending champion Bernhard Russi, who sped down the 3145-meter (1.95 mile) Olympic hill in 1:46.06. The 15th starter of the day, Klammer fell one-fifth of a second off Russi’s pace, but fought back wildly in the last 1,000 meters. ‘I was waiting at the finish line,’ Russi later recalled, ‘and I felt the people. I felt the power on the mountain of 60,000 people screaming for their man. Suddenly I felt my personality start to divide. One side was ‘I would like to win this race.’ The other side was ‘If I win the race, the party’s over.’ I became kind of a fan for Franz.’

Klammer nipped Russi by one-third of a second. Flushed with excitement, Klammer told reporters that at one point he skied so close to the fence lining the course that ‘I heard a shout or scream from a lady. I thought I was hitting her with a pole..... I thought I was going to crash all the way..... Now I’ve got everything. I don’t need anything else.’

Looking back 23 years later, Klammer told the Rocky Mountain News, ‘But the best moment was when Bernhard came running up to me and gave me a big hug. It was the most sincere congratulations of all. I beat him and he says ‘Franz, congratulations for all you have done.’ It still shivers me.’

-- David Wallechinsky

The above is from ‘The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics: 2010 edition’ by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky, available in bookstores everywhere or here.