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Skiing Into History: The Most Memorable Runs
A Note about the skiers and runs on this List... This is not a list of the fastest, hardest, or finest skiing form. These are simply the ski runs that people will continue to talk about for years to come...
- Vinko Bogataj • International Ski Flying Championships, 1970 This jumping competition was nearing its conclusion when snow started falling...heavier and heavier. Visibility was nil; conditions were dismal. This set the stage for an unpronouncable Yugoslavian ski jumper to tumble off the ramp on an aborted attempt. Bogataj was dazed and bruised, but otherwise unhurt. The next skier made a flawless jump, then fell heavily during a skidding stop in the runoff area. He was hurt badly, and the competition was called off. Bogataj retired a few years later to a quiet life of farming, having virtually no clue that he was immortalized as "the agony of defeat guy" seen on ABC's Wide World of Sports opening sequence. The footage is still shown over three decades later, and it is still chilling. Bogataj learned of his fame in the late 1970s, and perhaps because he was only superficially hurt in his pinwheeling crash, could never really understand why Americans were so captivated by it. Maybe if he heard Jim McKay's voice-over...
- Franz Klammer • Olympic Downhill, Innsbruck, 1976 Prior to this run, if you had asked anyone with even a casual interest in skiing to describe a ski racer, they would've used words like "finesse" and "precision" and "ballet on snow," etc. Klammer's edge-of-disaster blast for the gold changed everything. Swiss Bernhard Russi paced the field with a time that withstood run after run. Klammer, the "Austrian Express" came in at 1:45.73, .33 quicker than Russi and grabbed the gold. But it wasn't the medal that made this run spectacular, it was Klammer's style -- or lack thereof -- that left viewers speechless and on the edge of their seats. He couldn't possibly ski this way! How's he staying on the course? He's going to get killed...Klammer himself admitted that he thought he was sure to crash during his crazy flight. Anyone who saw his run will put it at the top of this list. Downhill was forever changed, and the image of the out-of-control skier in the yellow suit will never fade.
- Toni Matt • 1939 Inferno Race, Mt. Washington, NH Tuckerman Ravine's summit-to-valley Inferno race began in the 1930s. Dick Durrance won the second event with a record time of 12:35 in 1934. The third Inferno was not held until 1939. That race witnessed what is easily the most legendary run ever made in the Western Hemisphere. Austrian Toni Matt, age 19, erred in his calculated turns and made the blunder of skiing straight over the lip of the headwall with a 60 mph wind at his back. Matt skied down the headwall like a rocket sled on rails, shot through the ravine, and on down the mountain. His time of 6:29 slashed the record. For decades, this run was recalled whenever Matt raced, indeed whenever his name was mentioned. Rather than fade from memory, Matt's run is still spoken of in hushed, reverent tones.
- Hermann Maier • Olympic Downhill, Nagano, 1998 "Das Monster" was a favorite at Nagano until his run went wrong...way wrong. His edges failed to bite on an icy left hander, and he rocketed off the course at over 70 mph. Maier's speed combined with high winds to launch him sideways like a runaway kite. He blew through a couple of catch fences like they were made of paper before finally augering into the snow. If the tumble didn't kill him, surely the catch fences snapped his neck? Maier got up and collected himself, and will be forever after known as "The Hermanator." He shook off a sprained knee and a sore shoulder to win Gold in Giant Slalom and Super G over the following days. He dominated the World Cup scene in the ensuing years -- even returning from a near-fatal motorcycle accident -- but the legendary Nagano Downhill sealed his legend. To see a video of this classic flight, please click here.
- Alberto Tomba • Olympic Giant Slalom, Calgary, 1988 Tomba would hardly fit anyone's image of a highly disciplined slalom skier. Rather uh, large in stature, known for partying, womanizing, and generally acting like a rock star, he may be better known for his activities off the slopes. But his career includes 5 Olympic medals, 50 World Cup race victories, and the 1995 overall World Cup Title, so "La Bomba" is certainly one of the all-time greats. Yet it was in 1988 at Calgary, when he won the gold medal in both the slalom and the giant slalom, that he made his reputation. Tomba slammed his way through the gates and onto the world stage. He was also the first Alpine skier in eight years to win two gold medals, and he did it with a dominating run in the GS and a personal flamboyance that seems only to grow larger in memory.
- Jean-Claude Killy • Alpine sweep, Grenoble, 1968 Killy's 1968 sweep was the first since Austria's Toni Sailer in 1956, and last to this point. Interestingly enough, Killy's sweep was set against the backdrop of growing pains for a young skiing and ski racing industry. Two skiers beat Killy in the slalom, but were disqualified for missing gates, which at the time was not as cut-and-dry as it is today. In addition, Killy had company trademarks on his equipment that he displayed conspicuously while being photographed. Killy allegedly received payoffs for this, which was definitely at odds with the amateur status so keenly required in 1960s Olympic competition. Whatever went on behind-the-scenes, the dashing young Frenchman was an overnight worldwide sensation, and deserves far more credit for his role in popularizing the sport of skiing. While Killy didn't last as a major competitive force like an Ingemar Stenmark or Hermann Maier, he was certainly skiing's greatest goodwill ambassador. And the entire ski industry benefitted from his Triple Gold.
- Todd Brooker • World Cup Downhill, Kitzbühel 1987 Brooker was one of the self-proclaimed "Crazy Canucks" of the early 1980s. With a team-oriented, go-for-broke approach, the young Canadians scored some surprising victories in big World Cup events. Brooker won downhills in Aspen CO and Furano Japan, and most importantly, the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel in 1983. But what "the bühel" giveth, it just as easily taketh. During a training run in January 1987, Brooker lost a ski to an odd pre-release as he was rocketing down the Zielschuss. This created a high-speed cartwheel that seemed never to end. Brooker tumbled like a rag doll, bouncing off his extremities, which were forced into rather unnatural positions. The crash ended his career, and is still shown on highlight features every time the World Cup circus rolls into Kitzbühel.
- Eric Keck • World Cup Downhill, Kitzbühel 1991 and
- Bill Hudson • World Cup Downhill, Kitzbühel 1991, a few minutes later World Cup Downhill is arguably the world's nastiest, most dangerous organized mainstream sporting event. The Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel, Austria is the world's nastiest, most dangerous course on the circuit -- no argument there. The nastiest section of the Hahnenkamm is the Mausfalle (mouse trap), a canted combination turn/jump/cliff where the careers of a few world cup skiers ended in the catch fence. But not Vermont's Eric Keck...on his first ever trip down the Hahnenkamm, he jumped clear over the fence and sailed airborne into the forest. Rescuers rushed to the fallen Kecker, who eventually rose -- bleeding and rumpled -- whooping and wielding a mangled ski as if he had just scored a goal. Although no skier had ever cleared the fence in the history of Hahnenkamm downhill, Keck's feat was eclipsed a few minutes later when the somewhat less indestructible Olympian Bill Hudson duplicated the fence flight but bettered the distance. Hudson was lucky to be alive; he spent months in recovery and was never the same skier.
- Spider Sabich • Shower, Aspen 1976 Olympic slalom specialist skier/playboy Spider Sabich was the biggest US name in the sport in the early 1970s, winning one world cup race, a handful of podiums, and a couple of championships in a defunct dual slalom tour. In March 1976 Spider entered the bathroom of his Aspen home to take a shower after a day of skiing. His live-in girlfriend, French singer/actress Claudine Longet, estranged wife of entertainer Andy Williams, asked Sabich how to use his .22-caliber pistol. Longet claims that Sabich postponed his shower to demonstrate use of the weapon, which accidentally discharged a couple of rounds into him. Throughout the trial and ensuing media circus, Williams stood steadfastly by his lovely wife. It's a shame that the guy who gave us Born Free and Moon River was such a cuckold. Anyway, the cops bungled the investigation, and lovely Claudine spent 30 days incarcerated in a tastefully appointed apartment set up just for her in the Aspen courthouse. The happy ending to this sordid tale is that Williams eventually came to his senses, divorced Longet, remarried, and has assumed his rightful place as one of the all-time legends of American entertainment. What makes Williams so totally cool is that he was an excellent skier. Longet lives in obscurity. Sabich did not survive the shower.
- Bode Miller • World Cup Downhill, Bormio 2005 Bode Miller found a groove early in the 2004-2005 World Cup Season and never really looked back. He made it close by crashing out of a few as the season wore on, aggravating US Ski Team coaches with his "go for victory at all costs" style, when a conservative approach would've secured Miller the crystal trophy much sooner. He tooled around the continent in mid-sized RV with a couple of friends straight out of a Chevy Chase Vacation film. By the time Miller reached Italy in early February, it was clear that he was winning over the European fans with his unique combination of hard charging on the hill and easy-going personality off the slopes. He won them over completely when he lost a ski 15 seconds into the downhill at Bormio. With no point in continuing on one ski, Miller did it anyway. While the US coaches fumed, officials merely shrugged. The crowd went bonkers. Miller went on down the hill until his leg turned to jelly, then pulled out before the final jump. But it didn't matter; during a season in which Miller won numerous races and the overall championship, the incomplete run on one ski will ironically be forever remembered as the highlight.
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