Sportsnight #34: 1976, Men’s Olympic Downhill Skiing, Innsbruck

by Charlie_East_West on February 18, 2014

Good evening and welcome to Sportsnight. Welcome to the last in our Winter Olympics series. Tonight’s action comes from the 1976 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria and the blue riband event – the men’s downhill skiing.

“Kaiser” Franz Klammer was the favourite for the event. He was the host nation’s sporting hero. He skied like no one else – a mixture of blatant disregard for his own safety and with a style that looked like he was about to crash off the slopes and break his leg at any second. He was the best downhill skier in the world. He had won eight out of nine World Cup downhills the year before, and all three races in 1976. There were 66,000 screaming spectators at the event – most of them Austrian, to cheer on their hero. This was his big shot at Olympic glory. Unfortunately for the Austrian crowd and Klammer, he was drawn to ski 15th out of the top 15 skiers. This meant that the odds were stacked against him as the course would be dangerously icy by the time of his run.

No pressure then, Franz…

Klammer dressed up in bodysuit colours of bright yellow, with rather fetching red boots and helmet. He looked like a comic book skiing superhero. He then flung himself down the mountain with such blatant disregard for his own safety it was like he was a beginner skier who had suddenly found some sheet ice and faced with the prospect of uncontrolled skiing to avoid a nasty crash. He was all over the place – jumping through the air, arms and legs flailing around, ski poles flying out at unnatural angles. But, by god did he go fast. It was a performance of reckless bravado and crazed freedom. Even the fearless Klammer was a bit perturbed by his own skiing. He stated that, “I thought I was going to crash all the way. I gave myself terrible frights.”

Behind at the split, he recovered to win by 0.33 seconds – a huge margin by downhill skiing standards. In the process, Klammer cemented his place as one of Austria’s all time favourite sporting heroes.

It remains my favourite Winter Olympics moment. The greatest downhill skier of all time. The greatest downhill skiing of all time.

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