Carpe Diem – Winter

Posted on Sun 02/14/2010 by

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In August of 2008, in the run up to the Summer Olympic Games, I told the story of Al Oerter in the post at this link. Al won Olympic Gold medals in the Field event, The Discus, at 4 consecutive Games. To win one event is a feat in itself considering you have to go through so much even before being selected to represent your Country, but to do it at 4 consecutive Games was an amazing achievement, especially for a very long strength event such as the Discus is.

Now with the start of the Winter Olympics, I thought I would again reprise the title, which stands for ‘Seize The Day’, and apply it to an event at a Winter Olympic Games, and this post is about the legendary Franz Klammer.

As I mentioned yesterday, Winter Sports in Australia mostly trend to the different codes of football. Because it is warm to hot nearly all year round in most of the Country, traditional Winter Sports that are huge in other Countries around the World virtually do not exist here, mainly because of the heat. Facilities, and venues especially, are thin on the ground, so the ordinary person has virtually no access to what in other parts of the World are sports available to nearly everyone.

To that end, even the televising of those Sports is something quite rare indeed, and virtually the only time some people actually do see these sports is once every four years at the Winter Olympic Games. Even then, the televising of those Winter Games has only become a regular thing in the last couple of decades. Now people avidly seek out the beauty of figure skating, the raw speed of the speed skating events, the luge and bob events, and the Alpine Skiing events, and all the other events from those Games.

One of the first times an Australian Network actually sent a crew to cover the Games was in 1976, and in the main, the coverage was just a matter of taking the feed from other Majors, with some commentary from Australian announcers. More often than not, those broadcasts were rarely live, and mostly entailed highlights packages.

One of the first things I distinctly remember was vision of the Men’s Downhill.

From that time until now, this has always been one of my favourite events.

In this day and age when sporting superstars analyze every part of their discipline in an effort to get the best out of their equipment and their ability, those sporting events have become somewhat clinical, even though they still retain that level of excitement in watching something that as a viewer you would never even think of approaching, let alone to do it at the level these stars do.

Downhill Skiing has become as clinical now as those other sports. Even though the raw and incredibly high speeds these skiiers reach, they always seem to be in almost perfect control of what they are doing. The clinical part of the skill now comes in keeping low, keeping tucked, trying to keep aerodynamically small, and keeping the skis on the snow for as long as is possible. This has become euphemistically explained as being a slider, one who just slides across the snow. It sometimes looks a little dull, but you can’t help but admire the skill it must take to actually be able to do it, and then to do it at this level.

The first slider I really noticed was Bill Johnson, the first American skiier to win the Downhill, at the Sarajevo Games in 1984.

However, what originally took my interest in this sport was at that 1976 Games at Innsbruck.

He was known affectionately in his home Country Austria as ‘The Kaiser’. He was at the absolute zenith of his career in 1976, and even though only 22, he had won numerous Downhills in the three years leading up to the Games. These Games were in his home Country, and he wanted to do well for all his Countrymen who were there on that day in February to watch their hero. He was the favourite to win the event based on his previous history at the event, but he was up against seasoned campaigners already tested at this high pressure discipline at a Games Downhill.

The Downhill is a unique event. You get one chance as there is only the one run, so the slightest error cannot be caught up on a second run. The Swiss skiier Bernhard Russi was the defending Olympic champion and had set an absolutely blistering time, that none had even approached. Klammer was the 15th and last skiier to leave the gate, and Russi’s time was already on the board.

Klammer left the gate and put it all out there. He all but fell at the first turn, and it didn’t get any better. He spent more time trying to stay upright than getting into a technique. What resulted was heart in the mouth stuff. He was hardly ever on the desired line, spending more time in the air and close to the edges of the course as he tried to keep his speed at breakneck levels that no other skiier could maintain. Klammer was behind Russi’s time at the two intermediate time checks, and found something in the last sector. No other skiier at the time could approach the speeds Klammer could maintain, and he always skiied at the very edge of disater, and this run was no different. He ended up beating Russi’s time by 0.33 seconds, and considering he was well behind at the second mark, the speed he managed at the bottom must have been incredibly high for such a huge turn around in times when hundredths of a second are rarely made up.

You get chills just watching it, so to actually do it must have been something else again.

This one Downhill run was one of the first I had seen, and it has stuck with me to this day as one of the greatest sporting achievements I have ever seen. For someone to be so close to absolute disaster and somehow find a way to not only stay upright but to actually speed up was just amazing.

Franz Klammer had one chance on one day on one run, and he seized his chance, put it all out there in a death or glory run, and he achieved the dream that has only been achieved by so very few people.

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