December 24, 2010

MAN ON THE EDGE:

The day Franz Klammer made us all yelp like sea lions: In his thrilling downhill victory at the 1976 Winter Olympics the Austrian seemed almost to be falling as much as skiing (Harry Pearson, 12/23/10, The Guardian)

Franz Klammer was the last of the big names to go. Looking back, I can see that the pressure on the 22-year-old was immense. He'd won eight out of nine World Cup downhills the year before, all three races in 1976. There were 66,000 spectators lining the course and surrounding the finish line, most of them Austrian. He was the favourite. The man who might have been his biggest rival, Switzerland's Roland Collombin had broken his back 18 months before. Klammer was on home territory. He had one chance. If he messed it up then, frankly, he was buggered.

The buzzer went. The crowd yelped like sea lions. Klammer dressed in the lurid colours of a DC comic superhero – bright yellow bodysuit, red boots and helmet – careened down the mountainside with such blatant disregard for his own safety it was like he was a teenage hoodlum joyriding in a stolen body. He leapt, he bounced, he bumped. His skis flew out at odd angles. He teetered perpetually on the edge of disaster. At times he seemed to be falling more than skiing. It was a performance of such reckless bravado and wild freedom it's hard to imagine that anyone watching – including Bernard Russi – wasn't urging the Austrian to succeed. Behind at the split, he recovered to win by 0.33 seconds.

Of all the sport I watched in the 1970s nothing – not Gordon Banks's save in Mexico, the Rumble in the Jungle or Emlyn Hughes hugging Princess Anne on a Question of Sport – made such an impression on me. Thinking about it now I realise something: I remember the whole of Klammer's run at Innsbruck in vivid colour. Odd, because I know for a fact that the television I watched it on was black-and-white.


Ditto. Recall that the games weren't shown live then--even the 1980 Men's hockey victory over the USSR wasn't shown live, if I recall--and you couldn't find replays all over the dial and the internet. By the time they showed the final runs I was supposed to be asleep and was watching on a black-and-white- under the covers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 24, 2010 7:50 AM
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